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January 16 2015

Infantry Machine Gunner

The basic weapon of the US Army has always been the individual infantry soldier with his rifle. He is the ultimate weapon. He meets the enemy eye-to-eye, defeats him on the battlefield, and occupies terrain. The structure of the entire US Armed Forces is designed to support this man in the accomplishment of his mission.

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It was during World War II that the Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB) was instituted, at the suggestion of General Omar Bradley. The “Soldier’s General” felt strongly that the very special nature of infantry combat deserved unique recognition. Awards of the CIB and its only companion, the Combat Medical Badge (CMB), awarded only to aid men assigned to infantry units, began in 1944. These are the only such “combat” badges authorized. Regulations prescribe that these badges be worn above all other awards and decorations, including the ribbon of the Medal of Honor. Describing why he felt infantrymen should receive such an award, Bradley wrote: “The rifleman fights without promise of either reward or relief. Behind every river there’s another hill — and behind that hill, another river. After weeks or months in the line only a wound can offer him the comfort of safety, shelter, and a bed. Those who are left to fight, fight on, evading death but knowing that with each day of evasion they have exhausted one more chance for survival. Sooner or later, unless victory comes this chase must end on the litter or in the grave.”

THE RIFLE SQUAD (Authorized Strength – 12):

Twelve infantrymen formed the rifle squad, the basic combat unit of the Army. Eleven of these soldiers were armed with the .30-caliber, semi-automatic M1 Garand rifle; one man carried a fully automatic Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) that fired the same ammunition as the M1. A staff sergeant (squad leader) was in charge of the squad, and he was assisted by a sergeant (assistant squad leader). While both NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers) were considered “shooters” they also had major duties to perform in leading the squad as a whole or parts of it, when the squad was divided into teams.

In both defensive and offensive operations, the squad’s actions were geared to the BAR, which provided the squad’s primary firepower. Two of the squad’s riflemen were assigned to support the BAR gunner, one as an assistant gunner and one as an ammunition bearer. In combat, the squad leader and his assistant directed the actions of seven riflemen and the three-man BAR team.

THE RIFLE PLATOON (Authorized Strength – 41):

Three rifle squads and a small headquarters cell together comprised the infantry rifle platoon, which was commanded by a lieutenant — for as long as he survived. In addition to the platoon commander the headquarters was authorized a technical sergeant (platoon sergeant), a staff sergeant (platoon guide) and two messengers (privates), who were also called “runners.”

The rifle squads were numbered 1 – 3, as were the rifle platoons.

It was at the platoon level and above that “attachments” to the authorized strength and structure were commonly found. Each platoon normally was augmented by a medical aidman from the Regimental Medical Detachment. A mortar observer or observation team from the company’s weapons platoon or the battalion’s heavy mortar platoon might be attached for specific missions. In a similar fashion one or both of the company’s two light machine gun (air-cooled .30 caliber) teams or a heavy machine gun section (two water-cooled .30 caliber machine guns) might be attached to the platoon from the battalion’s heavy weapons company. The company commander also had five 3-man antitank rocket (“bazooka”) teams at his disposal, and he attached them to platoons as he saw fit. Under more rare conditions, engineers from the division’s engineer combat battalion might be attached.

THE RIFLE COMPANY (Authorized Strength – 193):

Three rifle platoons (1st, 2nd, and 3rd), a weapons platoon (sometimes called the 4th Platoon), and a company headquarters formed an infantry rifle company of six officers and 187 enlisted men, commanded by a captain. The weapons platoon (authorized strength – 1 officer and 34 enlisted men) contained two light machine gun squads and three 60mm mortar squads. (The 60mm mortar could lob a projectile about three times as powerful as a hand grenade out to a range of 2,000 yards. The great benefit of the mortar is that since its trajectory is very steep, it can be used to drop rounds behind hills, houses, etc. where the enemy would be protected from direct fire weapons.) The weapons platoon commander advised the company commander on disposition of the machine guns and mortars, which could be positioned to support the whole company generally, or to reinforce fires in a particular area of concern. Usually, the three mortars were grouped together in a single firing location. The two machine guns were doctrinally employed in “pairs” so that the fields of fire converged to cover as much of the company front as possible — but this could be done with the machine guns positioned quite some distance apart.

The rifle company was the lowest level at which the unit was usually fielded in echelons, with components of the company not in physical contact with others. The rifle company normally operated in three echelons: the three rifle platoons and a portion of the company headquarters, including attachments; the three light, 60mm mortars of the Weapons Platoon, which tended to operate slightly to the rear of the “front line;” and the administrative portion of the company headquarters (cooks, clerks and supply personnel, totaling about 12 men) which usually operated from positions well to the rear.

At this level, too, attachment of outside resources was habitual. Routine attachments included platoon aid men for the rifle platoons, one or more heavy machine gun sections from the battalion’s heavy weapons company, a forward observer party (normally a lieutenant and two men) from the supporting artillery battalion, and a forward observer party (one or two men) from the mortar platoon of the battalion’s heavy weapons company. On occasion, antitank guns from the battalion’s antitank platoon or the regimental antitank company might be attached to a rifle company. The rifle company was also the lowest level infantry organization to employ a reserve force, usually one rifle platoon. It was at this level that the doctrine of “two up and one back” began (two thirds of a combat unit engaged and one third in reserve).

M1919A4 Light Machine Gun

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Characteristics

Weight of gun and tripod: 48 pounds
Effective rate of fire: 150 rounds per minute
Cyclic rate: 450 rounds per minute
Maximum effective range: 1,100 yards
Ammunition: .30 caliber
Method of loading: 250 round cloth or linked belts

The 1919A4 was a recoil-operated, belt-fed, air-cooled light machine gun.

The M1919A4 was the primary light machine gun for more than 30 years. It served in many roles, including as an infantry support weapon, tank machine gun, and in several types of aircraft. Known as the “light .30,” this weapon delivered unsurpassed reliability and firepower across the demanding battlefields of World War II.

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The light .30 was the primary machine gun in the rifle company. This weapon was one of the anchors of the company’s fire support.   The machine gun squad was the basic unit for the light .30 and its crew. A corporal led the squad and had the following soldiers assigned; one gunner, one assistant gunner and ammunition bearers.

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During all campaigns in which it served, the light .30 proved to be dependable and flexible. Soldier appreciated its ease of operation and hard-hitting firepower. Still, it had a few drawbacks. For instance, due to its air cooling and lightweight tripod, the light .30 couldn’t keep up the sustained fire of its big brother, the M1917A1. Nevertheless, it was an important part of the Soldier’s arsenal.

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January 16 2015

Bravest of the Brave

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“Bravest of the Brave” is a small booklet covering the history of the 95th Infantry Division. This booklet is one of the series of G.I. Stories published by the Stars & Stripes in Paris in 1945.

 

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The story of the division is the sum of fifteen thousand personal experiences. The historian can gather the statistics that record the ground gained, the cities captured, the prisoners taken and the Germans killed; and he can, if he is skillful enough, sketch in the terrible background against which we moved and lived and fought. But he can never tell the whole story as you have lived it.

Some of your personal experiences have come to my attention; there are many among you whose conspicuous gallantry has earned official recognition. But there are hundreds of others whose quiet heroism went unnoticed in the confusion of battle, whose stories must remain untold because no one came back to tell them.

This little book, produced while we are still fighting, cannot presume to record the battle history of the division. It can only hint at the heroism and horror you have known. Much of it will seem old and trite to you. The historian can only set down what he was told. You were there.

This book, then, is designed to be sent home, to tell others some of the things you have done. It is to those final recipients that I have really addressed this foreward. There are no words that express the feeling I have for all of you.

Harry L. Twaddle
Major General, Commanding


This is one in a series of G.I. Stories of the Ground, Air, and Service Forces in the European Theater of Operations, to be issued by the Stars Stripes, a publication of the Information and Education Division, Special and Information Services ETOUSA. Major General Harry L. Twaddle, commanding the 95th Infantry Division, lent his cooperation to the preparation of the pamphlet, and basic material was supplied to the editors by his staff.

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THE STORY OF THE 9th INFANTRY DIVISION

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The American infantrymen of Maj. Gen. Harry L. Twaddle’s 95th Division had to be the “bravest of the brave” to move as they did in the face of heavy enemy machine gun and mortar fire down into the exposed city (‘Saarlautern’), which lies like a goldfish bowl between the high ridges on either side of the Saar. This battle-tried division had crossed the Moselle to help capture Metz and was now up against the principal river between the Moselle and the Rhine.

— JOSEPH DRISCOLL, N.Y. HERALD TRIBUNE

THAT was written on the day before the Saar was crossed. On Dec. 3, 1944, Joe Driscoll had a bigger story, because the way the river was crossed without loss of a man was one of the war’s slickest tricks.

At 0545, the first wave of the 1st Bn., 379th Inf., slipped across the river in boats manned by Co. C, 320th Engrs. Not a shot was fired. No one slipped or got hurt. Across the river, doughs turned south toward the approach to the main highway bridge across the Saar. Here they hit a German armored car in which a radio operator was frantically pounding out a message. He was bayoneted. A second Kraut sprinted for the demolition switch on the bridge. He missed — crumbling in his tracks, five feet short.

Star of the show was Battalion CO Lt. Col. Tobias R. Philbin, Clinton, Mass. He and Col. Robert L. Bacon, Harlingen, Tex., 379th CO, hatched the scheme which, on paper, didn’t have the proverbial snowball’s chance on succeeding — then Col. Philbin went along to make sure it did. Among other things, he took care of the German heading for the switch.

At 0721, Col. Philbin’s men hit the bridge and began cutting all demolition wires. They were nine minutes to the good. German engineers were on their way to blow the bridge. The German schedule was set for 0730.

By the time 320th Engrs. had located 6000 pounds of explosives, the enemy realized what was happening to his prize bridge. All hell broke loose from every machine gun and pillbox within range. Germans splattered mortar shells after losing the initial counterthrust. Heavy artillery cut loose to pulverize the bridge.

Meanwhile, 3rd Bn., 379th, had renewed its attacks at Saarlautern and reached the south side of the bridge. Both ends of the crossing were secure, but nobody felt much like using it for a while. Although the bridge was a hot spot for more than a month, every Joe in the Victory Division got to cross it sooner or later.

It was the only bridge across the Saar in this area. That’s why the 95th needed it — intact.

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The operation won a nod from the War Dept. when Under-Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson told a press conference:

“The 95th Division performed with great distinction in taking, intact, the Saarlautern bridge.”

On both flanks, the 377th and 378th were mopping up final pockets of resistance to the Saar. The river was the front line in the division zone. While 377th took Wallerfangen, 378th swept Lisdorf, a Saarlautern suburb.

THIS was the way it had been at Metz, where the 95th and the 5th Divs. shared the history-making reduction of the bristling fortress. This was the way it had been in the push to the Saar and subsequent fighting in the Siegfried Line. The 95th Joes were living up to their name –Victory Division.

The 95th jumped off for the Saar Nov. 25. Troops instinctively knew the goal. The German border was about 25 miles to the east, and the whole team was looking forward to the day when it could write “inside Germany” on letters home.

Beyond stretched the Siegfried Line, an obstacle which everyone knew would be tougher to crack than Metz forts. No one was disappointed.

The 377th Inf., under Col. Fred Gaillard, Greenville, Tex., spearheaded the division’s main effort. The 378th held the right flank with the 379th in reserve. The going was mild but still no walkaway that first day. Dough-feet met nothing heavier than mortar fire, and the division moved its line forward four miles, chewing up 12 towns.

Resistance merely seemed light because of veterans like Pfc. Willie Bishop, Jacksonville, Fla., Co. E., 377th Inf., runner. He was advancing with the lead platoon across an open field when the Krauts opened up with mortar and machine gun fire. With his CO and others wounded, Bishop took over. He crawled back to direct the company

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away from the zeroed-in area, then returned to give first aid to his CO. Next, Bishop reported the company’s position and called for artillery and mortar support. He stuck around to observe shell bursts, called in corrections, then asked for a smoke screen.

When the smoke screen came over, he evacuated the seriously wounded, led others to safety behind a knoll. After reporting to the battalion commander, he rejoined his outfit. He now wears the Distinguished Service Cross.

NEXT day, the two regiments pushed ahead, bothered as much by mined roads and fields, blown bridges, and culverts as by sporadic mortar fire and scattered machine gun nests. Withdrawing Germans used concrete emplacements of the Maginot Line as temporary shelter, but there was no sign of a stand in this once-powerful string of fortifications.

Although resistance stiffened, the division grabbed Valmunster, Velving, Eblange, Bettange, Remelfang, Bouzonville, Tromborn, Alzing, Chateau Rouge, Oberdorf, Coume, Flack and Varsberg during the third day of the fresh offensive.

The big day came Nov. 28. Shortly after midnight, 377th patrols crossed the German border. At 0945,Co. F blasted Krauts from Leidingen, a village squarely astride the French-German border. By day’s end, the 377th had added six more German towns to its list — Bedersdorf, Ittersdorf, Guerstling, Ihn, Kerlingen, and Rammelfangen.

Advancing troops looked for boundary markers along the road. Germany didn’t look any different than France. The people didn’t look different either. They had been pushed back and forth between the two nations so long that both languages came naturally. The 95th merely muttered, “We’re in Germany,” and went on fighting.

The deeper the 95th penetrated into Germany, the harder Krauts fought. The Germans were going all out to cover their main withdrawal back across the Saar. On Nov. 29, the two regiments rocked under ten counterattacks, six of them in the Falck area. One of the roughest was the tank-infantry scrap at St. Barbara. When the 377th’s 1st Bn. finished, the town was levelled. The division now was near enough the Siegfried Line to retaste artillery — from 88s up.

As November faded, division elements could look down from the high ground near Oberlimberg, Duren and St. Barbara and see the Saar. Across its banks, in towns and villages, farmhouses, fields, and woods, were the guts of the German West Wall.

GIs PLAY TUNE FOR NAZI

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NEW field orders arrived Dec. 1. The 379th Inf., in reserve since Metz, took over the 95th’s major effort. These Joes had only to punch through the remaining two miles to the Saar, make the hazardous crossing,then smack the Siegfried Line. A month earlier, that would have sounded like Section VIII chatter.

All three regiments cleared the division area to the river. It was an even start for all. For the first time in its combat history, the 95th was assigned direct air support. Preparatory to the crossing, eight groups of medium bombers pounded the east bank of the river in the Saarlautern area. The XIX TAC provided fighter support. The 377th and 378th ploughed ahead against bitter resistance while the 379th wheeled toward Saarlautern from its rear reserve position.

THE Air Corps returned Dec. 2 for another assist with 400 mediums giving the Saarlautern area a second pasting. Fighter-bombers rocked enemy barracks to the west of the city.

On the heights overlooking the river, the 377th’s 1st Bn. pulled out of St. Barbara, let Div Arty pump in shells, then moved back to mop up. The town was left a shambles. In the Merten and Falck areas, the 378th experienced particularly rugged fighting. The 379th’s 2nd Bn. struggled into Saarlautern, slugging it out through streets and parks, sniping and blasting from buildings.

Fighting maintained this sizzling pace once the Saarlautern bridge bad been secured. Saarlouis-Roden, Fraulautern and Ensdorf, three suburbs across the river, were integral parts of the Siegfried Line. Massive pillboxes and bunkers were sandwiched between houses, others cleverly camouflaged as private or commercial buildings.

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Metz was tough. This was double tough. Fighting was severe, painfully slow. A battalion objective for a whole day might be a single block or part of a block. It was house-by-house, bunker-by-bunker. “Mouseholing” through buildings was the only workable solution.

There were mines and booby traps, terrific mortar barrages, 88s firing point-blank and heavy stuff pouring in with the roar of a subway. The 95th used tanks and TDs, flame-throwers and Bangalore torpedoes, beehive explosive charges and self-propelled 155s that looked like monstrous grasshoppers; bazookas and rifle grenades, bayonets, knives. Welding torches sealed pillbox doors to prevent Germans from reentering.

Daily gains were measured by houses. Germans counter-attacked monotonously, using tanks and self-propelled guns in support of their infantry.

The way it shaped up, the 379th made Saarlouis-Roden its personal project; 377th rolled up its sleeves before Fraulautern; 378th battered its way into Ensdoff.

This last operation was roughest in one respect. Engineers played a grim game of building-and-rebuilding bridges with German artillery the top competitor. The river flooded Dec. 8, making even-boat crossings extremely difficult.

THERE was a dance macabre in the main ballroom of Fraulautern’s biggest hotel Dec 10. Bloody hand-to-hand fighting raged when 1st Bn., 377th Inf., lunged into the building. S/Sgt. Andy Skrele, Springfield, Ill., now a Co. B lieutenant said, “There was plenty of dancing there, but it wasn’t a slow fox-trot.”

With only a few blocks cleared in each suburb, Germans pulled out their 21st Panzer Div. and replaced it with less skilled troops. The group included inductees of the Volksturm, or People’s Army. Some were over 50 years old. Although the 95th could notice the personnel switch, even old men could do a good job of holding 10-foot-thick concrete bunkers.

The division was tired. It had been in the line for 58 days, whipping along with incredible speed for the past month.

There were no timeouts. Regiments were rotated, allowing outfits to be shifted for short rest periods, rehabilitation, training. A week earlier, Germans had initiated their northern offensive. The Saar sector entered a holding phase.

The 95th was proud of its two-month combat record. It had inflicted an estimated 21,000 casualities, including more than 10,000 prisoners. In the bitter fighting across the Saar, it demolished 1242 fortified houses and buildings, cleaned out 146 pillboxes and bunkers. One hundred sixty cities, towns and villages were liberated, 225 square miles engulfed, 31 major Metz and Maginot fortifications captured.

Recalling the months before combat, Joes could see how their rigorous training had paid off.

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PAYS BIG DIVIDENDS

THE regulars remembered when the 7th Inf. Div. formed the cadre. They remembered the activation ceremony at Camp Swift under a hot Texas sun, July 15, 1942. The division’s brand-new GIs, most of them just a few days out of Midwestern reception centers, paraded for the first time at that ceremony.

Basic training completed, the 95th made its first move, traveling to Fort Sam Houston, mammoth San Antonio post which at first glance looked like a college campus. Next door to Fort Sam was Leon Springs Military Reservation, which included Camps Bullis, Cibolo, Stahl and others. It was at these tick and chigger-infested camps that the Victory Division underwent its first appreciable field rehearsal for Metz and the Siegfried Line.

The division moved to Louisiana for its first large-scale maneuvers June, 1943. Here Joes of the 95th took advanced courses in how to beat Germans to their knees. These maneuvers were wet, dirty, and cold, but the division was taking shape.

Camp Polk, La., was just a stopover before the move to California. Desert training was to pay big dividends in France and Germany. But the desert wasn’t all work. Once or twice a month, the men breezed into Los Angeles and Palm Springs.

AFTER four months, one-to-two odds found no takers that the 95th was headed for the boat. But next stop was Indiantown Gap Military Reservation, Pa. Six months at the Gap rolled by with rugged training –mountain training in the West Virginia Maneuver Area as the principal dish.

“If nothing else,” one officer pointed out, “we learned in the West Virginia mountains how we would fight without communications.”

There was plenty else, and Metz, Saarlautern and the Siegfried Line served as proof.

Although the 5th and 90th Inf. Divs. played highly important roles in the reduction of Fortress Metz, the 95th certainly wasn’t reading its lines from the wings. Metz was the division’s first offensive action. Metz produced the 95th’s first heroes like Lt. Bill Kreuger of Co. I, 377th Inf., and Pfc Joe Lerma, Co. E. 378th, who won Silver Stars.

Lt. Kreuger, Pitman, N.J., was leading a section in an attack on a German-held chateau. Paralyzed from the waist down because of a shrapnel wound in the head, he still didn’t quit. He directed reorganisation of the squads and led them back to the CP.

All that Lerma, San Diego, Calif., did was capture a German pillbox and 20 of its occupants with no more firepower than a jammed rifle. On Armistice Day, 3rd platoon, Co. E, 378th Inf., was held up, so he took off for the hotbox. As he climbed the pillbox, his rifle jammed — but he didn’t. The Germans were so surprised by his determination that they surrendered. Lerma escorted the entire group back with a weapon borrowed from one of his prisoners.

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ARE BORN OVERNIGHT

THE Metz drive began rolling with a couple of separate pushes, Nov. 8. The 2nd and 3rd Bns., 377th Inf., attacking at night, wiped out the enemy pocket east of Maizieres to the Moselle. The going was rough. It was trial by fire. Men who proved themselves that night did a lot of the ball-carrying on the power drive down to Metz the following week.

The division had seen many slag piles before, but it had never attempted to fight one. Co. K. tried it the same night and ran into concentrated hell from mortars, machine guns and mines of deeply dug-in Germans. It was hell in the woods at Fereau Farm too where the untried Co. F waded through mine fields and booby-trapped brush to blast Germans from thick-walled farm buildings. Mortar fire rained unceasingly. Co. I found a similar reception on its assignment.

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ONLY momentarily stopped and bitter now, these outfits jumped off again the next day. It wasn’t any pushover, but the job was completed. Again the regimental commander learned the caliber of his men. Lt. Col. Robert L. Walton, 2nd Bn. CO, was an example — during that murderous night attack he rallied platoons that had been chopped up by mines and machine guns. That was just a warm-up. Next morning he was at the point of the attack into the woods above the farm. When a machine gun killed a sergeant next to him, the colonel tore into the position, his own submachine gun blazing. Although hit three times, he kept running the show. It wasn’t until late afternoon that he slowed down long enough for the medics to examine him.

Lt. Raymond J. Albano, (then a T/Sgt.) Small, Idaho, was another standout. Slugging his way to the top of a slag pile, Albano dug in, laid out an array of weapons, got ready for business.

Germans were most obliging. They even sent a 15-man patrol up the pile after him. Few returned to tell about the one-man army and his arsenal. In four days of his grim “king of the slag pile” game, Albano killed at least 20, knocked out four machine guns. He showered them with 200 rifle rounds, 15 rocket shells from a bazooka, 34 grenades from his rifle launcher and 40 hand grenades.

The 2nd and 3rd Bns. became veterans overnight. They weren’t to be stopped. They were poised for action whenever the Division Commander blew the whistle.

Another preliminary bout to the main event took place when 1st Bn., 377th, Joes crossed the flooded Moselle at Uckange, Nov. 8. A neat assist came from the 320th Engr. Bn., which put them across in the face of heavy fire. The Germans threw the book at the battalion — mortars, artillery, 88s, rifles. After Cos. B and C and part of D reached the opposite shore, business picked up.

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The troops pushed to the high ground east of the Moselle, dug in and began defending their newly-won bridgehead. But the Moselle began to rise and reached its highest level in 29 years. First Bn. doughs were getting hungry; they needed more ammunition. Mother Nature and Germans, both on the loose, provided a rugged combination. Normal supply means were impossible, but the 95th found the answer. The division’s Air Corps — artillery liaison planes — were used to supply the isolated troops.

Division infantrymen naturally are fond of their artillery, but the 1st Bn. was even more devoted after this extremely tricky operation. Planes made better targets than clay pigeons because they had to drop down to 25 feet to release supplies, then pull up swiftly to miss trees. Pilots appropriately dubbed their run the “Red Ball Airway Express.” They made 104 trips the first day alone, dropping food, ammunition, medical supplies.

By Nov. 12, the Moselle had subsided enough for supplies to be transported by assault boats. Next day, the remainder of 1st Bn. crossed to the east bank and began pushing to Bertrange and Imeldange, the final objectives. Cos. A and D overran both towns during the day, and Co. C charged into Bertrange to make certain Germans didn’t regain it.

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But the “13” jinx cursed the battalion, because Nazis brought up infantry and armor the next day to cut off forces in the two towns. Enough heroism was displayed by 1st Bn. the next two days to fill a book. Lt. Fred Brandenburg, 377th Med. Det., Denver, was a sample. He set up an aid station at Bertrange, worked tirelessly taking care of wounded.

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Then a report came from Imeldange, a mile away, that Kraut artillery had hit six men. The enemy also was zeroed in on the road between the two towns, particularly a 1000-yard open stretch.

Lt. Brandenburg started out although warned that the trip was too hazardous to attempt. He started out, but the road was so churned up it would have been like going over Niagara Falls in a Lister bag. So he came back and resumed work.

Next morning before dawn, the lieutenant started out again. The Krauts still poured it in. He dove into a shallow ditch along the roadside and crawled. The stuff crump-crumped all around; some of the big hunks of shrapnel sang a dirty song as they flew overhead. Down in the ditch the lieutenant crawled all the way to Imeldange. Grimy and exhausted, he went to work on the six injured men. Lt. Brandenburg was awarded the Silver Star.

The battalion fought savagely until Nov. 15 when the newly-organized Task Force Bacon drove down from the north to relieve the pressure.


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DIVISION GOES ON OFFENSIVE

ANOTHER of the Metz chapters was the Thionville bridgehead operation, an expert accomplishment by Lt. Col. Aubrey J. Maroun’s 2nd Bn., 378th Inf.

This battalion was in division reserve until Nov, 10. Although the Moselle and the enemy worked hand in glove to prevent bridging the swollen river, the 2nd swung over to Thionville, forcing a bridgehead.

The enemy not only held the east bank of the river but depended on Fort Yutz, the moat-surrounded stronghold, to choke off attempted crossings. The battalion initiated the operation Nov. 11; almost all of the troops were on the opposite bank and driving on the fort by day’s end. Cos. F and G were fighting inside the fort by noon the next day as Germans resisted with flame-throwers and every weapon they could man.

The fort fell at noon, Nov. 13. Without delay, troops pushed on to swarm Basse-Yutz. With the capture of Haute-Yutz, the battalion was poised to tackle the prize objective — Fort d’Illange.

Fort Yutz was tough enough, but by comparison with d’Illange, Yutz was a tea party. Perched on high ground between Thionville and Bertrange, d’Illange was about a third of a mile long, almost as wide and completely surrounded by barbed wire. Doughs of the 2nd Bn. figured that taking d’Illange would be a nice trick if they could do it — and they knew they could.

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First, they tried the easy way. A battalion committee went forward under a white flag to meet a German party. The fort commander was told he could cash in on the spot with no loss of life. Otherwise, the battalion would be obliged to assist his men in meeting Hitler in hell. The German CO refused; and Bn. went about the task of fulfulling its obligation.

Co. F pointed the assault, closely followed by Co. G. By nightfall, these veterans had pried their way into a portion of the fort. Fighting raged all night. Early Nov. 15, the fort was captured. There still was work to be done. Subsequent capture of the town of Illange relieved pressure on the beleaguered 1st Bn., 377th Inf.

The battalion’s first try at offensive action lasted three days — three days in which the Maroun Marauders had uncorked Fort Yutz and the more formidable Fort d’Illange, Thionville east of the Moselle and three more towns, all in the face of stiff German opposition. No sooner had the 378th’s 2nd Bn. finished the Thionville bridgehead operation than the unit became part of Task Force Bacon, together with the 1st Bn., 377th Inf.; the 95th Recon. Troop and Co. D, 778th Tank Bn.

Task Force Bacon was commanded by a man who could never hope to win a German popularity contest. He was Col. Robert L. Bacon, who played so much hell with the Germans they undoubtedly had a bounty out for his scalp. He whipped his troops down the east bank of the Moselle into Metz like a lawn mower cutting grass.

The colonel moved fast, his itinerary read like this: jumping off Nov. 16, Task Force Bacon roared through Tremery, Ay sur Moselle, Bousse, Rurange and Montrequienne.

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Next day, six additional towns felt the task force’s fiery breath as doughs raced past the halfway point to Metz. Col. Bacon was given a self-propelled 155, but he didn’t use it exactly as the books say it’s supposed to be used. His idea of correct range for the big gun was about 200 yards. Result was that a considerable number of buildings required remodeling later.

Second Bn., 378th, took Fort St. Julien Nov. 18 after a bitter fight, while the 1st Bn., 377th, overran St. Julien les Metz. As the 377th’s 1st Bn. was preparing to assault Fort Bellecroix, Krauts came streaming forward, hands in the air. Battalion troops started into the fort as Co. C swooped around to the north of Bellecroix to enter Metz.

Two tremendous explosions shattered heavy masonry walls as the fort collapsed. First Bn. was hard hit. That’s one of the reasons the 95th took so much pleasure in plastering the Germans. Bellecroix never will be forgotten.

Task Force Bacon blazed into the outskirts of Metz the same night, later spanning the Seille River, which streams through the city. A pitched battle in the heart of town followed.

TASK Force Bacon had its share of heroes. One in particular was Sgt. Walter Low, Co. G, 378th, Smoky Junction, Tenn., the first 95th GI to receive the Distinguished Service Cross. The action which produced the award was a short, daring and life-saving combination of guts and bluff. Two unmapped pillboxes near Fort St. Julien popped up surprisingly in the path of Co. G’s advance. While his platoon pressed forward, Low and two others pulled out of the formation to investigate the pillboxes.

When equally surprising machine gun fire blocked the platoon’s front over an open field, the pillboxes completed a squeeze play by pumping lead to the rear of the platoon. The pillboxes had to be liquidated or the platoon was in for a chop-up.

A steady stream of fire forced his mates to the dirt, but Low pell-melled squarely on the objective, hand-operating the sticky bolt of his M-1. Sixteen Germans occupying the strong point either were scared or bluffed. Nonchalantly, Low flushed them out, frisked them for arms. Advancing on the adjoining bunker, he bagged another 16. Adding the 32 Germans to a passing column, Low rejoined his outfit, which now was free to advance.

On the northern flank of the division zone, 379th’s 1st and 2nd Bns. were jockeying into position for the final push on Metz. Both jumped off on limited objective attacks Nov 14. By noon, the 2nd had reached its final objective southeast of Fort Jeanne d’Arc and was digging in to repel expected counter-attacks.

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First Bn. pried the German defenders out of Forts St. Hubert and Jussy Nord and took Fort Bois de la Dame, only to be bounced back by two severe counterthrusts. Both groups took heavy shelling from big Fort Driant in the early stages of their attacks. The first week of offensive combat ended Nov. 14.

The division launched its main effort at 1000 Nov. 15 when the 377th Inf. jumped off from the slag pile to inaugurate the drive down the west bank of the Moselle to the very gates of Metz. The road was straight, flanked by broad, open fields. Artillery and mortar fire raked the advance route, but the 2nd and 3rd Bns. continued their drive to the south.

By nightfall, the 3rd holed up in La Maxe. The 2nd slugged it out in the outskirts of Woippy, only three miles from Metz. Tough to crack, Woippy finally was cleared before dark, and the 2nd surged forward along the road to Metz.

Meanwhile, the 3rd was having its headaches near Fort Gambetta. A request for that “extra ten percent” was passed along the line Nov. 17. No urging was needed. With Metz in sight, the division felt sharp. Elements of the 377th poured into Sansonnet, a Metz suburb, that night. Early next morning, the 2nd and 3rd Bns., with tank support, pounded onward as swank homes and apartment buildings replaced fields and farms. When Co. G crossed the bridge over the Hafen Canal at 1000, the city of Metz was entered. Elements of both battalions had reached the island by noon and were mopping up the enemy.

Crossing into the central part of the city in assault boats manned by Co. A, 320th Engrs. followed. The 377th launched the battle of the snipers. Metz bubbled over with these sharpshooters.

THE HIDDEN BALL PLAY WORKS IN WAR

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CAPTURE of Metz was a rich achievement. The city successfully had weathered every assault since 1944. But the 95th had a plan, and grim-faced Joes made it work. Punching along “88 Boulevard,” the division smacked up against the bristling forts ringing the city. Still, the ring was broken, and this is the way it was accomplished.

The 378th got off to a flying start with one of the most daringly conceived and brilliantly executed trick plays of the entire offensive. Col. Samuel L. Metcalfe, Regimental Commander, Pearsall, Tex., dreamed it up.

Fronting the 378th’s zone was a series of fortifications including Fort Amanvillers, the three Canrobert forts and Fort de Feve. East of this line spread the extensive Lorraine fortifications. Taking such an area by an anticipated head-on drive would have been suicide. Col. Metcalfe’s plan was to sweep around the northern tip of the fortifications and approach from the rear, leaving behind a small task force to deceive the enemy into thinking the entire regiment still fronted the forts.

The job of providing the phoney front was assigned to Task Force St. Jacques (Capt. William M. St. Jacques, Service CO, San Antonio, Tex.), composed of three rifle

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platoons, one anti-tank platoon, a squad from an Intelligence and Reconnaissance platoon, cooks, clerks, and other Regimental Hq. and Service Co. personnel. This jumbled force was assigned to cover an eight and a half mile front. They did a bang-up job — with the aid of loudspeakers and other deceptive means.

The hidden ball play worked like a charm. The regiment jumped off at 0800 and within three hours had captured the town of Feves. Two hours later it swept on to take Somecourt. The surge continued, and Saulny, Vigneulles, Plesnois and Norroy le Veneur tumbled before the avalanche.

The 378th jumped off for the third day’s operation at 0800, and the 1st Bn. had assaulted, captured and occupied the three Canrobert Forts the first five hours. A regimental patrol sent out to scout Fort Lorraine reported the once-mighty bastion had been deserted. That night Forts Kellerman and La Salle were found deserted, and troops moved in. Other elements of the battalion stormed into a portion of Fort Plappeville, were pushed out by defending Germans, then slugged their way back into that part of the fort above ground.

By this time, the 378th’s 3rd Bn. had forced its way to the west bank of the Moselle. One phtoon of Co. K was crossing a bridge into Metz when Germans touched off demolition charges. Casualties were heavy.

Next day, the battalion crossed to the city in boats operated by Co. B, 320th Engrs., and joined the 377th in ferreting out the snipers. First Bn. held Forts Plappeville and St. Quentin and the intervening area. The third arm of the main effort was powered by the 379th Inf., which also had drawn a battering-ram assignment

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against the forts flanking the road to Metz. At the very outset of the division jump-off, the 379th ran into stiff and bitter enemy resistance. The 1st and 3rd Bns. chipped away at one of the greatest and most impregnable of all Metz forts — Jeanne d’Arc, guardian of the western approach.

Chipping was the word for it. The heaviest demolition charges produced a lot of concrete dust and not much else. With various forts in the Jeanne d’Arc system linked by tunnels, the Germans employed a fire-and-run defense, and the 379th found it impossible to block all the tunnels.

During the all-out drive to clean out fortified areas between the mighty masonry bastions, 1st and 2nd Bns. smashed into the Germans’ main line of resistance, were cut off following a bloody battle. Again tiny artillery liaison planes were called upon to furnish supplies.

Third Bn. reorganized Nov. 17, resumed the attack in the morning, hooking up with the 1st. The two battalions took off for Metz again, knocking off the towns of Vaux, Rozerieulles, Chatel St. Germain, Mouline, Jussy, St. Ruffine and Sey-Chezelle against comparitively light opposition. A single Co. G platoon took the Fort de Guise group unopposed.

95th MEANS” BRAVEST OF THE BRAVE”

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AS the Metz campaign drew to a close, with the city rapidly being drained of stragglers and snipers, the 379th continued cleaning up the area east of Forts Driant, Jeanne d’Arc, St. Quentin and Plappeville. By Nov. 21, the fall of Metz was something to write home about. The 95th Recon. Troop had made contact with elements of the 5th Div., which had driven up from the south to complete the squeeze play on the fortress city.

Only two small pockets of resistance remained, and these were being mopped up by the 377th. Garrisons in the four big forts across the river were completely cut off. The task of maintaining a death watch on these die-hards was transferred to units of the 5th Div.

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The frosting on the Metz cake was the capture of Generalleutnant Heinrich Kittel, CO of the 462nd Volksgrenadier Div. and of the Metz fortress. He was captured by Co. K, 377th, which had fought its way up to the southern part of the Ile Chambiere. When taken, Kittel was a patient in the hospital, being treated for a leg wound.

Resistance in the city ended officially at 1435, Nov. 22. The 95th Div. Joes had reason to be proud of their achievement. They refuted historians who said it couldn’t be done, and they did it in 14 days. Enemy casualties totaled 11,205, including an estimated 1577 killed, 3546 wounded and 6082 definitely captured.

With the successful reduction of Metz the 95th marked another milestone. Landing in England Aug. 17, the division trained for almost a month, then crossed the Channel and began a four-week bivouac in the Normandy apple orchards.

Many of the division’s troops “Red Balled” supplies to the front, while the remainder marked time in the hedgerows. The 95th’s first combat nod finally came Oct. 20 when it defended the Moselle bridgehead.

METZ and Saarlautern were battle successes. That’s the way it was all along for the men of the 95th. But everything that happened had a reason, and this reason is esprit de corps. Heres the way one 95th Joe felt about his first Christmas in combat. He was writing his wife:

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This is our first Christmas away from home. I say home, because we all feel now that anywhere in the States is home. The propaganda broadcasts have been making fun of our not being home for Christmas. But that’s fair enough. If we weren’t over here fighting we might be doing it back there.

A lot of us have kids back home, or hope to have later on, and those kids are going to know about the 95th and the part it played in cleaning up this mess. They’ll know what the 95th has done for them and be just as proud of the outfit as I am. And that’s tops.

We aren’t joking any more about that nickname, “Victory Division.” We think we’re proving it. The next job? I don’t know what it will be, but I’ll bet a million to one that the 95th does it wholehog. That’s the kind of division we have, that’s the kind of leaders we have, that’s the kind of fighters this outfit has — “Bravest of the brave.”

INSIDE REAR COVER

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REAR COVER

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January 12 2015

XIX CORPS COMBAT CHRONOLOGY

MARCH 1945

3 March:
29th Infantry Division passes to army reserve but remains in München-Gladbach. 2nd Armored Infantry Division, reinforced by the 379th Infantry Regiment of the 95th Infantry Division, continues north over the Cologne Plain. From Niederbruch-Krefeld Oppum area, CCA pushes through Viertielsheide, CCR is attached to CCA and moving through eastern outskirts of Krefeld, heads for Kaldenhausen, halting southwest of town upon order. CCB fights bitterly for west approach to Uerdingen bridge, which is weakened by explosion but still intact. 3rd Battalion, 330th Infantry Regiment of the 83rd Infantry Division reaches bridge at Oberkassel, which enemy destroys. 331st Infantry Regiment mops up until relieved by the 329th Infantry Regiment. 95th Infantry Division gets into position for attack

4 March:
95th Infantry Division to which the 379th Infantry Regiment reverts from attachment to 2nd Armored Division, begins attack toward the Rhine River on the northern XIX Corps flank. 378th Infantry Regiment drives through Uerdingen to the Rhine and clears part of north Uerdingen. Efforts of the 379th Infantry Regiment on the south to reduce pocket near Adolf Hilter bridge are only partially successful as German rear guards put up determined resistance. 2nd Armored Division concludes its Cologne Plain operations, capturing Kaldenhausen and mopping up Uerdingen, Kaldenhausen, and Viertielsheide areas.

5 March:
95th Infantry Division overcomes negligible resistance west of the Rhine River within its zone, concluding corps’ part of Operation Grenade. While 378th Infantry Regiment, supported by the 377th Infantry Regiment, drives northeast from Uerdingen to Rheinhausen, where bridges are destroyed, 379th Infantry Regiment eliminates pocket near Adolf Hilter bridge in southern Uerdingen. The Division outposts the Rhine from Uerdingen north to Essenbrug. 95th Infantry Division relieves CCA, 2nd Armored Division which withdraws to assembly area. CCB, leaving Reconnaissance Company of the 67th Armored Regiment, reinforced, to defend the Rhine River line, begins also movements to assembly area.

26 March:
XIII Corps becomes responsible for XIX Corps sector and takes operational control of 95th Infantry Division (less 377th Infantry Regiment) and the 113th Cavalry Group.  377th Infantry Regiment is attached to the 2nd Armored Division. XIX Corps prepares to move to new zone on northern flank of the Ninth Army.

29 March:
2nd Armored Division, begins passing through XVIII Airborne Corps sector and relieving the 17th Airborne Division.

30 March:
17th Airborne Division is placed under command of the XIX Corps at 06:00 hours. Corps reverts to First Allied Airborne Army at same time and its zone is divided between British 8th Corps and U.S. XIX Corps.

APRIL 1945

1 April:
CCB, 2nd Armored Division, drives southeast to Lippstadt and makes contact with 3rd Armored Division of the VII Corps, First US Army, closing noose about the Ruhr. CCA, 2nd Armored Division takes Cologne – Berlin autobahn pass through Teutoburger Wald but cannot gain passages near Oerlinghausen and Augustdorf. 83rd Infantry Division and 15th Cavalry Group, driving East across Muenster Plain, mop up bypassed resistance and protect the right XIX Corps flank along Lippe River. 8th Armored Division is attached to the XIX Corps for drive on Paderborn. 30th Infantry Division assembles in Drensteinfurt area, between Muenster and Hamm, 113th Cavalry Group is attached to it at 24:00 to protect the left flank.

2 April:
2nd Armored Division continues battle for Teutoburger Wald passes, hampered by terrain, blown bridges, and roadblocks CCA, assisted by elements of CCR, cuts main road from the autobahn to Bielefeld and gets elements to outskirts of Oerlinghausen. CCB moves forward through Teutoburger Wald along Detmold road to Hiddesen area. 377th Infantry Regiment reverts to 95th Infantry Division from attachment to the 2nd Armored Division. 119th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division, is attached to the 2nd Armored Division. 83rd Infantry Division continues clearing the XIX Corps right flank along the Lippe River and maintains and strengthens small bridgehead at Hamm. 30th Infantry Division less 119th Infantry Regiment starts toward Teutoburger Wald to relieve 2nd Armored Division units. 8th Armored Division continues east against scattered resistance, CCB is vigorously engaged at Neuhaus, northwest of Paderborn.

3 April:
XIX Corps begins attack on Ruhr pocket. 30th Infantry Division relieves 2nd Armored Division of positions in Teutoburger Wald, 117th Infantry Regiment taking over passes formerly held by CCR and CCA on the left and 120th Infantry Regiment relieving CCB units west of Hiddesen and clearing part of Forst Berlebeck, which extends southeast from Teutoburger Wald. 2nd Armored Division gets into position for drive east to the Weser. CCR column drives southeast to Mackenbruch and cuts Oerlinghausen – Lage road. One CCA Task Force attacks southeast in evening through Osterheide to Lage while others overrun Oerlinghausen, assisted by CCR’s flanking movement, and clear region about Pivitsheide. CCB advances through Forst Berlebeck and seizes Berleback. 83rd Infantry Division which releases the 15th Cavalry Group to the 95th Infantry Division and takes control of the 113th Cavalry Group (less 125th Cav Rcn Sq) from the 30th Infantry Division, continues to clear along Lippe River on the XIX Corps right flank relieves elements of the 8th Armored Division in Neuhaus and mops up that town, turns over positions generally west of the 30th Infantry Division north south grid line, including Hamm bridgehead to the 95th Infantry Division. In the afternoon, 8th Armored Division opens assault against Ruhr pocket, driving southwest with CCA and elements of CCR. CCA moves along Paderborn – Soest highway to Erwitte area. CCR closing in Lippstadt area, sends Task Force Walker to Elsen to relieve pressure on CCB and moves Task Force Artman to Weckinghausen. 95th Infantry Division begins relief of the 83rd Infantry Division and prepares to join in assault on the Ruhr pocket.

4 April:
2nd Armored Division progresses rapidly on the left, where one CCA column advances from Lage to Lemgo and thence to approaches to the Wesser and another clears Pivitsheide and continues to the vicinity of Gross Berkel. CCB slowed by terrain and opposition, advances from Berlebeck to Kreuzenstein. 30th Infantry Division, protecting XIX Corps left flank, maintains defensive positions; in limited attacks overuns Hiddesen and Detmold. On the right 83rd Infantry Division makes main effort with Task Force Biddle and employs the 329th and 331st Infantry Regiments close behind it to mop up. 330th Infantry Regiment defends Lippe River line from Lippstadt westward. 95th Infantry Division begins assault on Ruhr pocket, attacks south across Lippe River and Canal in Hamm – Lippborn area with the 379th and 378th Infantry Regiments, forward elements reach Dinker. 15th Cavalry Group screen Lippe River along the divisions right flank.  8th Armored Division continues assault on Ruhr pocket, one CCA column thrusts south to Mohne River line while another clears Erwitte and drives toward Androchte. CCB overruns Overhagen, Stripe, Norddorf, Ebbinghausen and Voellingshausen.

5 April:
2nd Armored Division reaches the Weser south of Hameln and establishes bridgehead with 4 Task Forces and 2 artillery battalions. On left one CCA Task Force crosses in assault boats in vicinity of Ohr and, when bridge is completed, is followed by another. CCB drives to the Wesser in Emmern – Grohnde area, crosses one column in assault boats near Grohnde and another in sector of CCA. By the end of day CCA bridgehead extends from Rohrsen to Voremberg. CCB holds Hajen, Frenke, Brockensen, and Heyen. 83rd Infantry Division continues northeast toward the Weser to right of 2nd Armored Division, clearing many towns. Aided by air strikes, 95th Infantry Division expands and strengthens its bridgehead south of the Lippe against diminishing resistance. 377th Infantry Regiment attacks south across the Lippe toward Soest in afternoon, passing through 379th Infantry Regiment, and reaches positions beyond Wiltrop. 8th Armored Division, reinforced by 194th Glider Infantry of the 17th Airborne Division continues west toward Soest. CCA columns converge on Altenmellrich. CCB attacking through CCR reaches line Weslarn – Lohne. 95th Infantry Division and 8th Armored Division prepare for concerted assault on Soest.

6 April:
CCA of the 2nd Armored Division thrusts northeast to the Leine River at Schulenberg and takes bridge intact. CCB clears Harderode, Esperde, and heights south of Heyen. CCR crosses the Weser River at Grohnde and drives northeast toward Brugstemmen, reaching Elze. 30th Infantry Division with the 117th Infantry Regiment on the left and the 120th Infantry Regiment on the right, speeds eastward behind the 2nd Armored Division, clearing north flank of the XIX Corps to the Weser River. Takes responsibility for Weser bridges sites, crosses 2 battalions of the 117th Infantry Regiment over the Weser River at Ohr and a battalion of the 120th Infantry Regiment crossed the Wesser river at Grohnde. 83rd Infantry Division gets forward elements to the Wesser in the Bodenwerder – Holzminden area to the right of the 2nd Armored Division. 3rd Battalion, 329th Infantry Regiment, crosses at Bodenwerder and clears Halle. In Ruhr pocket sector, the 377th Infantry Regiment of the 95th Infantry Division begins clearing Soest. The 378th Infantry Regiment secures portion of Hamm east of Hamm – Soest railroad in 2- pronged assault from Hamm bridgehead and from the northeast. CCB of the 8th Armored Division reaches Ost Oennen, southwest of Soest.

7 April:
2nd Armored Division, ordered to halt upon reaching general line of Sarstedt – Hildesheim road, attains objective and suspends offensive operations. 83rd Infantry Division clears its zone west of the Weser except for small portion in Polle area and makes rapid progress east of the Weser. 330th Infantry Regiment rejoins division. Continuing operations against Ruhr pocket, 95th Infantry Divisions 377th Infantry Regiment finishes clearing Soest by 0730 hours and attacks toward Werl until pinched out; 379th Infantry Regiment pushes into Werl; 378th Infantry Regiment finishes clearing Hamin and several suburbs. Task Force Twaddle ( Major General Harry L. Twaddle, 95th Infantry Division Commanding General) is formed to complete action against Ruhr pocket in conjunction with XVI Corps. The Task Force consists of 8th Armored and 95th Infantry Divisions plus their attachments and supporting forces. Task Force Twaddle organizes Task Force Faith under Birgadier General Don C. Faith, composed of the 377th Infantry Regiment, 194th Glider Infantry Regiment and supporting units, and gives it mission of clearing region between Ruhr and Mohne Rivers, protecting left flank of Task Force Twaddle, and maintaining contact with friendly forces on the left. CCB, 8th Armored Division columns, drive on Werl in afternoon, reaching West Onnen and positions near Gerlingen. CCA clears and holds sector along Mohne River southeast of Soest. CCR starts from Lippstadt to Soest area.

8 April:
2nd Armored Division improves defensive positions in limited attacks and regroups for future action. 30th Infantry Division continuous to follow armor eastward. 83rd Infantry Division continues east on right flank of the XIX Corps, crossing the Leine at several points in Alfeld -Greene area, and reaches assigned objective, line Gandersheim – Westfeld, south of Hildesheim. 331st Infantry Regiment starts across the Weser, 3rd Battalion crossing at Heinsen and clearing Bevern. Task Force Twaddle continous  operations against Ruhr pocket. Task Force Faith clears region between Mohne and Ruhr Rivers east of line Allengen – Hirschberg – Meschede. CCB, 8th Armored Division, drives west through Werl and captures Ost Buederich. CCR clears westward toward Werl – Wickede road. 95th Infantry Division continues west in region between Hamm and Unna – Soest rail line, clearing numerous towns.

9 April:
XIX Corps is relieved of responsibility for Ruhr pocket by XVI Corps, which takes command of Task Force Twaddle, and prepares to renew its eastward drive.

From Ninth Army history:

On 10 April Ninth Army units took Hanover, on the following day Bochum and Goslar. On 17 April troops of the 9th Army took Magdeburg on the Elbe (already on the 14th they had liberated the camp Guard Set), on 21 April, the last resistance ended in the Ruhr pocket. After the formation of bridgeheads across the Elbe requested by General Simpson permission to further advance on Berlin was not granted for political reasons. On 2 May Ninth Army had reached the limits on its entire front of the agreed demarcation line with the Red Army. After the German surrender the Ninth Army occupied large parts of central Germany until it was withdrawn in June 1945.

January 11 2015

Battle at the West Wall

The XX Corps Battle at the West Wall
(4-18 December)

After weeks of severe fighting, troops of the Third Army finally had come up against the fortifications of the German West Wall. On 3 December, following the seizure of the Saarlautern bridge, the 1st Battalion of the 379th Infantry, 95th Division, captured two bunkers that commanded the exit from the span.1 Although somewhat isolated, the twin bunkers were part of the West Wall system; their seizure marked the beginning of a slow, bloody attempt to chip and pry an opening that would lead to the Rhine.

The XX Corps entrance into this formidable fortified zone was not the first made by the Allied arms. As early as 11 September advance guards of the 5th Armored Division operating on the right wing of the First Army had captured the first bunkers in the West Wall position. This initial penetration was made in a sector some eighteen miles northeast of Trier, near Wallendorf, which, like many parts of the West Wall at the beginning of September, had not yet been fully manned. Subsequent German reports indicate that CCR (reinforced) of the 5th Armored Division went clear through the West Wall before being driven back by a hastily organized counterattack. It is not clear whether the Americans on the spot realized at the time what they had done. Aerial reconnaissance failed to show many of the overgrown positions in the West Wall, and most of the intelligence reports on the subject dated back to 1940. As a result the Allied maps of September 1944 possessed only very general tracings of the West Wall and often were in disagreement with one another. Then, too, the Germans had built fortifications in various positions forward of the West Wall proper. The resulting complex puzzled even the German staffs: on 21 September, for example, OB WEST was forced to give Army Group G a ruling as to what really constituted the West Wall. However, when the First Army hit the West Wall defenses at Aachen in mid-September there was no question that the hard-fought advance was being made against the main German fortifications. The Aachen sector was the second most heavily fortified portion of the entire West Wall–the Saarlautern sector ranked first–but although the First Army had effected a breach in the Aachen area the subsequent stalemate at the Roer had prevented a thoroughgoing exploitation of this Allied penetration.

Hitler had set the Third Reich to building an “impregnable” wall in the West in 1936. At that time only the fortifications reaching from the Moselle south and east to the Rhine were called the “West Wall,” but in 1938 Hitler extended the name to the entire system–a fact probably unknown to the composers of the popular marching song of 1940 when they immortalized the “Siegfried Line.” A series of extensions had been planned at either end of the West Wall in 1940, but the quick German victory in France and the necessity of moving the defenses of the Third Reich forward to the Channel and the Atlantic forced these plans into the discard. A little work on the original West Wall between the Moselle and the Rhine was done during the succeeding years; however, no real effort was made to strengthen the entire line prior to 20 August 1944, when Hitler issued a decree for a levy of “people’s” labor to put these fortifications in repair. Concrete, steel, machinery, and manpower–not to mention the heavy arms required for antitank defense–all were in very short supply in the autumn of 1944, but by December the West Wall had been somewhat strengthened in those areas where the Allied forces had not won an early foothold.

The West Wall, as it existed in 1944, had its northern terminus at Roermond, near the southeastern corner of the Netherlands. The fortified zone extended south through the Aachen sector, where a second zone backed up the first as a double barrier to any advance into the Cologne Plain; continued along the eastern border of Luxembourg; looped to the east bank of the Sarre, which it followed to a point northeast of Forbach; then turned gradually east until it reached the Rhine in the vicinity of Karlsruhe. Here the West Wall followed the German bank of the Rhine, coming to an end at Basel and the Swiss frontier.

Throughout its length the West Wall zone had been planned with an admirable eye for ground. Where the terrain denied cross-country movement by large mechanized forces the German fortifications were relatively weak and scattered. Where the ground offered a corridor to the attacker the fortifications were the strongest and provided mutual support by works in great density. It is true that the West Wall was of 1940 vintage and that warfare had made considerable advances by the fall of 1944. German staff officers recognized several weaknesses in the four-year-old system. First, it lacked the antitank defenses necessitated by the newer, heavier tanks. Second, many of the smaller works were not adequately protected against aerial bombardment, and the whole line had insufficient antiaircraft artillery. Next, the bunkers seldom were built to mount guns of calibers larger than 75-mm., and the smaller pillboxes could not use the 1942 model machine gun in embrasures constructed for the MG 34. Furthermore, the entire system was so complex as to require a considerable familiarity with the individual works by those who manned them. Germany’s lack of manpower in 1944 forbade the necessary training period in the West Wall; as a result most formations entered the fortifications with the Allies hot on their heels and with no time to coordinate the defense of their own particular sector. In addition, co-ordination of fire plans and tactical dispositions was made difficult by the lack of communications equipment–switchboards, wire cables, radios, and the like–in the fortified zone. Finally, the original German plans had been predicated on one division in each four miles of the line, plus large field forces in reserve. In early December 1944, however, the First Army would defend the West Wall with an average force of one division–much under the 1940 strength–per ten miles of front. Elsewhere single German divisions held as much as twenty-mile sectors in the West Wall.  All these factors contributed to a reasonable skepticism by many German field commanders as regards the “impregnable” nature of the West Wall. Rundstedt, for example, freely characterized the West Wall fortifications as “mouse traps.” But many of their points of weakness would be negated by the bad weather of the late fall and winter months, which drastically limited close tactical support by the Allied air forces, curtailed the use of heavy armor in cross-country maneuver, and shifted the burden of attack almost entirely to the infantry. Even the tremendous superiority enjoyed by the Allies in the artillery arm (with better guns and projectiles than those of 1940) would be partially erased when the ground fogs and lowering clouds of the late months cut down observation, thus somewhat restoring an equilibrium between the 1944 gun or howitzer and the 1940 bunker.

The section of the West Wall which the XX Corps proposed to attack was now regarded by the Germans as the strongest in the entire West Wall system. Two factors had worked to make it so. In January 1939 Generaloberst Walther von Brauchitsch, then Commander in Chief of the German Army, had prepared an estimate of the French plan of attack in the event of war. Brauchitsch and the General Staff concluded that the French would make a strong attack between Merzig and Saarlautern, aimed at reaching the Rhine Valley. (Map XXXVII) As a result of his recommendations this particular part of the West Wall was strengthened;9 subsequently more works were added in the last part of 1943 and the early months of 1944. As for the second factor: the Allies had reached the West Wall in the strong Aachen area before much of anything was done to rearm the fortifications or build auxiliary field works;10 in the Merzig-Saarlautern sector, however, the Germans had been given time to arm the line and strengthen the original works with trenches, wire and some additional reinforced concrete.

In the area between Beckingen and Ensdorf, where the XX Corps would launch its attack, the forward part of the West Wall zone bordered the east bank of the Sarre River. At some points the bunkers and wire reached to the river; at others they lay as much as half or three-quarters of a mile inland. This forward zone was thickest in and around the cities of Fraulautern, Saarlautern-Roden, and Dillingen, here averaging nearly a mile in depth. Farther to the east the German works continued, although in much less strength, to a second main zone which began on the higher ground some five or six miles east of the Sarre. This second zone was deeper than the first, but the state of its defenses in 1944 is unknown. Actually it was a part of a semicircular fortified zone known as the Hilgenbach Stellung, which extended from Beckingen to the Blies River west of Zweibruecken and was intended as a kind of tampon in the event of a penetration in the forward zone. Still another barrier, the Westmark Stellung, existed farther east in the Trier-Zweibruecken area. The fortifications in this zone, however, had never been completed.

Hoernlein’s LXXXII Corps, deployed in the West Wall positions in front of the American XX Corps, had been badly shattered during the battles west of the Sarre, but had withdrawn across the river in good order. In the north the 416th Divisionhad regrouped and now held the Orscholz line and the Sarre-Moselle triangle as an anchor for the main West Wall defenses. East of the Sarre the 19th VG Division was deployed with its right flank touching the Orscholz line and its left resting on the village of Beckingen. The 73d Regiment held the north wing, the 74th Regiment held the south, and the 59th Regiment was assembling in the rear at Dueppenweiler. The 19th VG Division had been reduced to one-third its normal strength by the time it reached the West Wall and was reported as “completely fought out,” with only 630 infantrymen left.  Officer losses had been extraordinarily high throughout the division and much of its heavy equipment had been lost west of the river. The replacements handed the 19th when it crossed the Sarre were uniformly rated as poor. They included a Luftwaffe security battalion of some six hundred untrained men, a fortress battalion, and a Volkssturm battalion. The latter was relegated to the Hilgenbach Stellung in the rear. This was the standard disposition of the Volkssturm during the first days of the December fighting, although occasionally a company would be caught in the forward line before it could be relieved and the American intelligence officers would have a field day predicting that these old men and beardless youths were harbingers of the imminent dissolution of the German Army.

The 21st Panzer Division and Kampfgruppe Muehlen (the latter reinforced by an “assault” detachment from Panzer Lehr) held the Sarre line from Beckingen to the boundary between the LXXXII and XIII SS Corps south of Ensdorf. In theory the21st Panzer Division was a counterattack reserve, although the First Army continued to warn higher commands that this division could not be considered an “attack unit.” On 4 December the 21st had only two hundred effectives all told among its armored infantry. However, replacements quickly were brought in and the tank strength of the division was raised to seventeen Mark IV’s and V’s.15 In the past the 21st Panzer Division had been reputed to have good morale, but now its fighting spirit had declined, partially, at least, because of Allied bombing raids over Wehrkreis VI where most of the troops in the panzer division lived.16 Kampfgruppe Muehlen had reached a new low–even for that battered outfit–and the division staff was serving in the line. The total strength of the Kampfgruppe on 4 December was 360 officers and men, but replacements were added to bring the formation up to the strength of a weak regiment. The LXXXII Corps was reinforced by five battalions of field artillery under the 404th Volks Artillery Corps, totaling about a hundred pieces of various makes and calibers. The 404th was hard pressed for shells, however, and its officers were mostly superannuated infantrymen with little experience in artillery.17 The battalions were grouped on the high ground northeast of Saarlautern-Roden.

An additional division had been promised the First Army. This was the 719th Division (Generalleutnant Felix Schwalbe), which on 4 December began to detrain at Saarbruecken after a move south from Holland. The 719th had been employed in the Netherlands as an over-age garrison unit, but had been caught up in the fighting there just before the switch to the First Army. The infantry were considered poor, although they proved better than anticipated, and the division artillery train was characterized as the “Artillery Museum of Europe.”18 So hard beset was the whole First Army front that for some days the higher German commands could not decide where the various trainloads of the 719th should be committed. The division was shuttled forward and back in answer to orders and counter orders until the Army Group G staff named it “our gypsy division.” The 719th finally came to rest in the Saarlautern sector of the West Wall.

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Map XL
Saarlautern Bridgehead
3-19 December 1944

The forces listed above were obviously not strong enough to garrison the West Wall defenses properly. On 4 December the First Army reported that it could not man all of the works in the forward zone and would have to place the available troops in the first line of bunkers. Defense in depth, therefore, the tactic on which the West Wall was based, would really mean retirement from one layer of fortifications to another in what amounted to linear tactics. Hitler himself had intervened to order that there be at least one man in each and every pillbox or bunker, but this order–though several times repeated–had little practical effect when the single occupant was an old man or a boy from the Volkssturm.Psychologically, however, the defenders of the West Wall were in a position to make a stubborn fight. This was the “last line,” here the German soldier fought to defend German soil, and here he had the greatest amount of artificial protection that he could hope to find.

The 95th Infantry Division Expansion of the Saarlautern Bridgehead

The capture of the Saarlautern bridge was followed on 4 December by a rapid regrouping in the 95th Division sector intended to exploit this new and unforeseen situation. The 3d Battalion of the 379th Infantry crossed the bridge, which the German gunners still were trying to destroy, and attacked obliquely to the right toward the suburb of Fraulautern. This fortified area lay in the West Wall and formed a barrier to future American deployment and maneuver east of the river. (Map XL) The 21st Panzer Division had finally gathered a small force to counterattack, and about 1000 the American 1st and 3d Battalions were hit by two companies of infantry, reinforced by five tanks.20 The American tank destroyers, which had been rushed across the bridge the day before, here proved their worth, knocking out two of the German tanks and so discouraging the rest that they turned and fled;21 the enemy infantry were driven off by the American riflemen and machine gunners. After this brief interruption the 1st Battalion pushed slowly north toward Saarlautern-Roden, while the 3d Battalion continued the attack into the Fraulautern outworks, beginning an inconclusive and hard-fought battle for possession of the suburb which did not end for the 95th Division until the 5th Division took over the fight on 17 December. The two battalions of the 379th made little progress on 4 December. German pillboxes and bunkers were less thickly clustered in the open space between the bridge and Saarlautern-Roden and Fraulautern than in the two towns themselves, but the enemy had assembled much of his artillery behind Saarlautern-Roden and maintained a constant barrage on the open approaches. All of the XX Corps artillery that could be brought to bear concentrated on shelling Saarlautern-Roden and the hills beyond, but with only limited success. As later events showed, the supremacy of the American artillery arm, which had marked nearly every step of the fight across France, would be reduced considerably during the whole period of battle in the Saarlautern bridgehead. Continuous bad weather curtailed aerial observation. The common German use of flash-hider salt, which here proved to be a very effective means of reducing muzzle flash and thwarting American flash-ranging techniques, further limited the effectiveness of counterbattery fire by the American artillery. Moreover, the enemy was able through this and subsequent days to pound the bridgehead with his heavy guns, while his own battery positions were out of range of the American medium and heavy field artillery battalions emplaced west of the Sarre. But as usual the number of American batteries engaged was vastly superior to the number of opposing German batteries. The American artillery would average approximately 15,000 rounds expended in each day of action, as compared with what the “shell-rep” teams estimated to be a maximum German expenditure of 6,000 rounds on the days of the most intense enemy fire.

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FRAULAUTERN. Circles indicate pillboxes

It must be noted here that American air power was of relatively little use in complementing the efforts of the artillery arm during the fighting in the bridgehead. Almost continuous bad weather during the first weeks of December permitted the heavy and medium bombers to intervene only on occasion; when they did come into the area they were forced to bomb through the overcast, with generally unsatisfactory results. The fighter-bombers, working closer over their targets but carrying small bomb loads, were called upon to render most of the air support given the XX Corps. Yet even the XIX TAC, well known in the Third Army for flying in all kinds of weather, could give but little support to the effort on the ground. Photo-reconnaissance flights showed mostly cloud and mist patches on the pictures taken during these weeks, adding to the difficulties inherent in attacking a deep zone of strong fortifications.

While the 379th Infantry (-) pushed out from the Saarlautern bridge, the 378th Infantry advanced to the near bank of the river on the southeastern edge of Saarlautern. Although the regiment had been engaged against the enemy in the southern suburbs as early as 3 December, its right flank was held in check for some hours. Lisdorf, the town south of Saarlautern from which the 378th was to launch a crossing attack, was not taken until 4 December. General Twaddle then ordered the 377th up from reserve, with instructions to relieve the rear elements of the 379th inside Saarlautern, as well as the troops of the 378th at the edge of the city. When the reserve regiment came up, the 378th assembled in Lisdorf, on the west bank of the Sarre, preparatory to an assault crossing set for the morning of 5 December.

The 378th Infantry, using two battalions in the assault, made a successful predawn crossing as planned, receiving only a small amount of small arms fire. The German West Wall fortifications at this point did not extend as far as the river bank, but when the 3d Battalion, moving on the left, came up against the first belt of pillboxes outside the village of Ensdorf the enemy fire increased sharply. Nevertheless this first phase of the attack inland moved slowly ahead; by noon the 3d Battalion had penetrated the forward line of pillboxes and was at the edge of Ensdorf. The 1st Battalion, on the right, crossed the railroad line south of the village but here was halted by direct fire from concrete works whose weapons covered the open ground beyond. All told, the two battalions captured fourteen or fifteen pillboxes during the first day’s operations–but the toughest sections in the West Wall yet were to be engaged.

North of Saarlautern, the 2d Battalion of the 379th crossed the bridge on the early morning of 5 December, passed through the lines of the 1st Battalion, and attacked toward Saarlautern-Roden. The 2d Battalion reached the edge of the city before receiving the usual German counterattack, and this was repulsed. Four pillboxes, built to cover the southern entrance to Saarlautern-Roden, checked further advance. The remainder of the daylight hours were needed to reduce three of the four. Over on the right flank the 3d Battalion, in a day marked by hard fighting, won a foothold at the south edge of Fraulautern and cleared most of four blocks. Again pillboxes, manned by machine gun crews and a few covering riflemen, were the chief obstacle; built into the streets and between houses each required discovery and the slow process of “buttoning up,” approach, and demolition before the advance could proceed.

The fighting on 6 December gave the troops of the 95th Division a real taste of the difficulties attendant on forcing a way through the West Wall. In Saarlautern-Roden, Fraulautern, and Ensdorf, the enemy contested every yard of ground, every house, and every street, filtering behind the American lines in small groups each time a pillbox or a block of houses was taken, and forcing the American infantry to turn back and fight for each strong point two or three times. In the northern sector the 2d Battalion of the 379th was hit during the early morning by an intense shelling estimated to be about fifteen hundred rounds in a matter of three hours. It refused to be disorganized or demoralized and fought its way slowly, house by house and room by room, into Saarlautern-Roden. The 1st Battalion, which had come forward on the right of the 2d, paralleled its dogged advance, but at the end of the day was stopped short by “a warehouse full of Germans.” The 3d Battalion was able to report a net gain of only one city block in Fraulautern.

The two battalions of the 378th Infantry in the Ensdorf sector also found the going slow and the enemy determined. While the 3d Battalion hammered away at strong points within the town the 1st Battalion reduced fourteen pillboxes in the zone south of Ensdorf. Here the flat, open terrain was barren of cover and the 1st Battalion found that all movement in daylight was answered by sharp fire and led to high losses. As a result, the gains made by this battalion were confined to the hours of darkness, when the German pillboxes could be engaged without incurring needlessly heavy losses. The 2d Battalion of the 378th had not yet been able to cross the river, because the enemy gunners had brought the Lisdorf crossing site under extremely heavy fire. Nevertheless General Twaddle now had five infantry battalions across the Sarre in position to continue the attack against the West Wall and expand the Saarlautern bridgehead. The 95th Division, however, was no longer alone on the enemy bank of the Sarre. On 6 December the 90th Division seized a bridgehead in the Dillingen area about two miles north of Saarlautern, and the XX Corps attack against the West Wall began to assume new proportions.

Operations on the South Flank of the XX Corps

At the beginning of December the right wing of the XIII SS Corps held a salient northeast of St. Avold athwart the boundary between the XII and XX Corps. The XII Corps drive in the Sarreguemines sector and the XX Corps attack at Saarlautern had increased the angle between the axes of advance for the two corps and widened the gap between their main forces. This divergence may be explained in part by the direction in which lay the strategic objectives assigned the XII and XX Corps and the bend, at this point, in both the West Wall and the German frontier. The terrain northeast of St. Avold in any case was most unpromising. This area generally is known as the Warndt Forest, although in reality the Warndt is surrounded by a series of smaller forests such as those of St. Avold and Houve. Not only is this country heavily wooded, but it is extremely rugged, marked by mining towns and shafts. What few roads cross the Warndt are poor. In the years before World War II the French General Staff had written off this sector as being generally too difficult for offensive operations and had planned to bypass the Warndt in any advance to the Sarre River. The Third Army had adopted a like scheme of maneuver, with the result, as already noted, that the advance of the 95th Division on the XX Corps right ran into considerable trouble at the hands of the XIII SS Corps troops (elements of the 36th VG and 347th Divisions) who were gathered in the rugged salient.

The XII Corps left was deployed in echelon and thus somewhat protected against the enemy in the Warndt, although the commitment of the 10th Infantry on the extreme right of the XX Corps initially had been ordered to give cover for the 80th Division. The subsequent Sarre crossing in the Sarreguemines sector had swung the XII Corps wide of the Warndt, leaving the corps cavalry and 6th Armored Division patrols to screen along the Rosselle River on the shoulder of the German salient. The main part of this difficult, enemy-held terrain lay in the zone of the XX Corps, uncomfortably close to the Saarlautern bridgehead.

The XX Corps plan to place General Irwin’s 5th Division on the corps right, as soon as a part of the 5th could be relieved at the Metz forts, was put in motion on 1 December. Irwin’s command was assigned a narrow zone on the right of the 95th Division. The 5th Division right in turn was covered by the 6th Cavalry Task Force, which had been employed earlier as a screening force in the Forêt de St. Avold. General Walker intended that the 5th Division should advance to the Sarre, clearing the Warndt salient as it progressed, and arriving on the river between Buss and Voelklingen. As yet General Patton had not definitely decided to release Irwin’s division for use across the Sarre.

On 2 December the 3d Battalion of the 11th Infantry moved east from Metz to join the 1st and 2d Battalions of Colonel Bell’s 10th Infantry, which were attacking through the southwest corner of the Forêt de la Houve. Meanwhile progress was slow. The Germans had strengthened the natural defensive features of this broken, heavily wooded ground by ingenious field works and obstacles; in the mining villages they fought stubbornly from shafts and pits. At Creutzwald, on 3 December, troops of the 10th Infantry fought a day-long battle to dislodge the Germans from mine shafts and houses. On the same day the 6th Cavalry Group and the 5th Ranger Battalion were hit by two counterattacks west of Lauterbach, but beat off the enemy and continued the advance.43 The Germans returned to counterattack on 4 December, this time striking K Company of the 10th Infantry. The American infantry held their ground, despite rising losses, until tank destroyers from the 818th Tank Destroyer Battalion swung into firing positions and put an end to the enemy assault.44 The 3d Battalion of the 11th Infantry came in on the right of the 10th during 4 December, beginning an advance to cross the Rosselle and clear the enemy between that river and the Sarre. Lauterbach, a key crossroads village, was taken without a fight on 5 December. The enemy was beginning to weaken, although artillery and mortar fire increased to cover the withdrawal toward the Sarre. By 7 December the 10th had reached its objectives on the near bank of the river and tied in with the 95th Division. Two days later the regiment was relieved by the 6th Cavalry Group–the cavalry had taken over the southern sector earlier–and the entire 5th Division assembled to begin training in preparation for a future attack against the West Wall fortifications.

The 95th Division Fight at the West Wall, 7-18 December

The fortified area in which the 95th Division had begun a penetration was one of the strongest sectors of the entire West Wall. The city of Saarlautern itself had been cleared without much difficulty since it lay on the west bank of the Sarre River and did not constitute a part of the West Wall proper. But the suburbs on the east bank, Saarlautern-Roden, Fraulautern, and Ensdorf, were most heavily fortified and their defenses well integrated. (Map XL) Pillboxes and bunkers constituted the main obstacles to an advance through this sector. Spread in great density, these works were found everywhere: they guarded the approaches to the fortified towns, they were built to command cross streets, and they nested inconspicuously between ordinary dwellings. Some pillboxes were small, with only one or two firing apertures for small arms and machine guns. Other pillboxes and bunkers had as many as sixteen rooms, extending for two or three levels below the ground. These works were built of reinforced concrete, some having roofs and walls that were ten feet thick; most were impervious to anything but a direct hit by heavy artillery or an aerial bomb. The high-velocity projectiles fired by the 90-mm. gun generally were unable to cope with these works, as shown by the experience of one crew, serving a self-propelled 90-mm. gun, which fired seventy-five rounds at a range of less than one hundred yards without breaching or neutralizing the pillbox target. Many of the reinforced concrete works were skillfully camouflaged, giving the harmless appearance of manure piles, mounds of earth, and ordinary buildings. In one case a bunker simulated the appearance of a suburban railroad station with ticket windows appropriately marked. It was discernible as a fraud only when the attackers were within rifle range. Some of the pillboxes and bunkers inside the towns could not be precisely located until all of the surrounding buildings were razed by shelling and bombing. Besides having formal field works of the pillbox or bunker type, the enemy had turned ordinary dwellings, shops, and factory buildings into miniature forts by the use of sandbags, wire, and concrete reinforcement.45 Most of these defensive works were occupied initially by third-rate troops from the Volkssturm companies, but as the tide of battle moved into the city sectors these troops were replaced by first-line units. In addition, roving assault guns, dual-purpose 88’s, and tanks reinforced the city defenses, fighting in the narrow streets where they could be protected by their own infantry and where the American tanks or tank destroyers could not readily bring them within range. German artillery and heavy-caliber mortar fire continued to be intense and accurate through all of this fighting and reached a volume in both the 90th and 95th Division zones never before experienced by these divisions.

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ENSDORF. Circles indicate pillboxes.

The American attack, both here and in the zone of the 90th Division, was hampered by the fact that the main German defenses crowded so close to the east bank of the Sarre as to prevent proper tactical deployment for assault in front of the fortified line and seriously hamper the amassing of supplies within close supporting distance of the assault forces. Poor weather denied the troops on the ground the kind of tactical co-operation by the air force which had made the going easier for the infantry in the early battles across France. Limited observation and the difficulty of moving medium and heavy field artillery across the river and into a bridgehead still under small arms fire at many points further curtailed the conventional use of the combined arms in assault against the West Wall.

Nearly every pillbox or bunker captured by the Americans entailed some reduction in the actual rifle strength on the firing line. At no time were sufficient explosives available to demolish any large number of these enemy works. The engineers welded shut the steel doors and casemates on some pillboxes, but there was never sufficient welding apparatus to make this a general practice. Bitter experience soon taught the Americans that each captured pillbox or bunker must be occupied to prevent German infiltration and the reoccupation of a presumably “dead” work. The type of close combat which continued for so long in the Saarlautern bridgehead, and in the Dillingen area as well, not only resulted in numerous combat casualties, but also was distinguished by a high rate of sick and combat-fatigue cases. This kind of fighting was disheartening enough for veterans; it was worse for the inexperienced soldier. In the case of the 95th Infantry Division, for example, the body of the division–as it stood in November–had had two years of training in the United States. Now, like the rest of the American divisions actively engaged on the Western Front, the 95th Division had to rely more and more on green replacements who were being thrown into battle with generally no more than basic or refresher training. These replacements did not suffice to fill the gaps in the ranks, for an alarming shortage was already making itself felt as the replacement depots and battalions ran dry.

In the face of such difficulties the rate of progress made by the 95th Division attack was very slow, measurable in terms of a block of houses cleared or a few pillboxes captured. On 7 December the 379th Infantry edged ahead in Saarlautern-Roden. The 2d Battalion, on the left, repelled sorties by small batches of infantry and roving tanks, cleared one city block, and late in the afternoon crossed the railroad tracks, after the 1st Battalion had taken a factory in which a hidden tank was holding up the advance on the right. The 3d Battalion, which had been engaged at Fraulautern, was relieved by the 2d Battalion of the 377th Infantry and returned to join the rest of the regiment, while the 377th took over the attack in Fraulautern and the protection of the all-important bridge at Saarlautern. The 378th Infantry was held almost to a standstill in the Ensdorf sector under exceedingly severe shelling that knocked out all support bridges as fast as they were put in and made it impossible to cross the 2d Battalion, still west of the Sarre River. Finally, on 8 December, the 2d Battalion was brought across and added its weight to the attack on Ensdorf. Throughout this and the following days, the 378th was handicapped by the necessity of using its riflemen in carrying parties (since no vehicles could be brought across), by the lack of any tank destroyer or tank support, and, in addition, by the fact that the right wing of the regiment was in the air.

During 8 and 9 December the 95th Division fought on, house to house and pillbox to pillbox, but with little to show for its efforts.46 Behind the battalions the Sarre River was rising rapidly; by 9 December it had swollen to a width of between four hundred and five hundred feet in the 378th area, which as yet had no bridge and could be supplied only by strenuous efforts on the part of the assault boat crews. The Saarlautern bridge served to supply the other two regiments across the river and made it possible for the whole of the 607th Tank Destroyer Battalion and 778th Tank Battalion to reinforce the attack, with considerable impetus to the morale of the infantry.

Finally, on 10 December, resistance in Fraulautern began to crack a little.47 The 377th, still fairly fresh, wedged through the fourth and fifth city blocks, after capturing a large hotel whose defenders had beaten off several assaults. Characteristic of this close-quarter fighting, the battle for the hotel progressed from room to room and ended in a hand-to-hand struggle in the ballroom. Said a squad leader, “There was plenty of dancing in that ballroom today, but it sure wasn’t a slow fox trot.”48 German counterattacks checked the 378th and 379th on 10 December, but the next day brought gains, dearly won as usual, along most of the 95th Division front. In Fraulautern the 377th Infantry drove the Germans back across the railroad line in the center of the city. The enemy fought as stubbornly as ever, but there were a few indications that the will to resist was weakening; the regiment was encouraged greatly when Lt. Peter H. Skala, an IPW (Interrogation Prisoner of War) officer, was able to talk the defenders of four pillboxes into surrendering without a fight.49 At Ensdorf the 378th cleared most of five city blocks. But in Saarlautern-Roden the 379th Infantry made little progress, becoming involved in a stiff fight to take a large brickyard that blocked the advance on the left flank.

This brief spurt forward came to an end on 12 December, although the 377th took several more blocks in Fraulautern. At the close of this day the 378th Infantry was able to report that after four days of fighting it had taken a cluster of four interlocking pillboxes. Such was the measure of advance in this battle. During the next few days the 95th Infantry Division made a little progress through Ensdorf and Fraulautern.50 The Germans were fighting with what seemed to be little cohesion or direction, although the individual soldier showed stubborness and determination.51 But if the enemy was weakening, so was the 95th Division. As early as 12 December the combat efficiency of the division (an index largely based on actual rifle strength) had been rated at 61 percent; 2,000 replacements were needed but were lacking. On 13 December, therefore, the XX Corps commander attached a battalion of the 2d Infantry to the 377th Infantry as bridge guards, the first step in bringing the 5th Infantry Division across to relieve the weary troops in the Saarlautern bridgehead. On 16 December, first word of the German counteroffensive in the Ardennes reached the Third Army. But no change was made in the plans to relieve the battle-worn 95th Division. By 0400 on 17 December the 11th Infantry had taken over the 379th Infantry battle at Saarlautern-Roden, and at midnight the 2d Infantry had completed the relief of the 377th Infantry in Fraulautern, where the 377th was able to turn over a greater part of the city. General Irwin took command of the Saarlautern bridgehead the next morning and the 95th Infantry Division, minus the 378th Infantry, moved out of the line after fifty-eight consecutive days of combat. Its respite would be very brief. The Third Army was about to intervene in the Ardennes battle and elements of the 95th Division would be returned to the bridgehead to free the 5th Division for use in the new American offensive. Nonetheless the 5th Division had time to make very considerable progress forward, as it did on 18 and 19 December. General Irwin’s troops were generally fresh, the companies were mostly at full strength, and the 95th Division already had driven through the main bunker lines of the forward West Wall zone.53 Time was lacking, however, for the 5th Division to capitalize on its gains.

The 378th Infantry was not included in the relief on 17 December because General Patton had ordered the regiment to continue the fight for a bridgehead in the Ensdorf area. Here the river was returning to its normal channel, and on the night of 15-16 December six antitank guns were ferried across. By 17 December the engineers had a bridge in. Guns and supplies began to roll, but the 378th Infantry was not to be allowed to carry out its mission of expanding the bridgehead. On 20 December the last covering troops evacuated Ensdorf and withdrew across the Sarre as part of General Patton’s plan to fight a containing battle at the Sarre while turning the bulk of his forces north to meet the German offensive.

The progress of the 95th Infantry Division in the attack east of the Sarre River had been marked on the Third Army situation maps in terms of yards won or lost. But to the staff and line of the 95th the story of this bitter fight was best expressed by the number of buildings and fortifications wrested from a determined enemy. During the period 1 December to 18 December the 95th Division had captured 146 pillboxes and 1,242 defended houses or other buildings. In addition the division had taken over three thousand prisoners and inflicted very heavy casualties on the enemy (estimated by the Americans, albeit superficially, at over five thousand dead and wounded). In the same period the 95th Division had lost close to two thousand officers and men in battle, plus at least six hundred hospitalized as nonbattle casualties, these losses totaling one third of the combat strength with which the 95th Division had started the December operation.

The 90th Division Fight at the West Wall Continues, 8-19 December

On 7 December General Van Fleet had decided to commit his reserve, the 359th Infantry, in the Dillingen bridgehead battle. (Map XLI) This decision to reinforce the flagging efforts of the attacking force east of the Sarre was strengthened on the following day by reports coming in from the 357th which indicated that the situation on the exposed left flank was growing steadily worse. At noon on 8 December the reserve regiment began to assemble around Bueren and Itzbach in preparation for a crossing that night, leaving its supporting weapons and a small detachment from the cannon companies and antitank platoons of the three regiments to hold the old outpost line on the west bank of the river. The 90th Division commander planned for the reserve regiment to cross the river in the zone of the 357th Infantry and then attack between the two regiments already east of the Sarre. He hoped that the fresh formation would crack the stalemate at Dillingen, but to do so the reserve regiment would have to capture the high ground northeast of Dillingen and, in addition, destroy the enemy salient separating the 358th from the 357th. The initial objective assigned the 359th was the southwest edge of the Huettenwald heights, just north of Dillingen and about one thousand yards east of the railroad line at which the 358th had been checked.55

During the night of 8-9 December the 359th moved down to the river. The crossings were made as planned, one battalion following the other as the assault craft were released, and at 0700 the 3d Battalion, bringing up the rear, finished debarking on the east bank. The two battalions in the lead had marched inland immediately, passing through the right wing of the 357th and crossing the railroad tracks. At dawn the battalions began the attack up the pillbox-infested slopes to the east, with the 1st Battalion on the right (and about a thousand yards north of Dillingen) and the 2d Battalion on the left. These fresh troops attacked with vigor and determination, but no speedy advance was possible so long as the enemy, behind reinforced concrete, held the ground above.56 By dark, however, the leading infantry were within two hundred yards of the Haien Bach, a small stream that here ran north and south along the edge of the Huettenwald. The 3d Battalion, under orders to gain contact with the 358th Infantry, made its attack due south toward Pachten. Immediately, it came under fire from the pillboxes in the long, slender enemy salient which, reaching nearly to the Sarre, had frustrated earlier attempts to link up the American forces in the 90th Division zone. This fortified area was strongly manned and hard to penetrate. The pillboxes were grouped so as to give mutual support and the whole position was reinforced by two forts, or large bunkers, so strongly constructed that they had successfully withstood direct hits by shells from the American 240-mm. howitzers. The approach taken by the 3d Battalion lay across flat ground completely barren of cover and swept by fire. At the end of this first day the battalion could report no progress; in fact it had been forced to take shelter, under the searching German fire, in the few houses along the railroad track. The two companies of the 3d Battalion, 357th Infantry, already engaged in a fight to drive through this enemy salient farther to the west, cleared a few pillboxes during the day, but later lost most of them to German infiltration.

Although the advance by the 359th Infantry lessened the German pressure on the right flank of the 357th during 9 December, the situation on the left and center of the latter’s thin line grew more desperate by the hour as assault after assault hit at the American positions and bounced back, each claiming casualties among the defenders. The 1st Battalion, aligned east of the Beckingen-Pachten road, was in a particularly precarious state. Its ranks were so reduced that some men whose feet were too swollen by trench foot to permit walking were carried by their comrades to the forward foxholes. The platoon from C Company which had been stationed at the road block positions astride the Beckingen-Pachten road was the target of persistent German attacks. At dawn each morning the enemy maneuvered in on the platoon and attacked to wipe out the detachment. But each assault was repelled and this anchor for the left wing of the 357th Infantry held fast.

The 358th Infantry continued to battle along the railroad tracks in Dillingen. The 3d Battalion resumed its efforts to clear the buildings west of the tracks, using a captured 75-mm. gun and twenty-two rounds that fitted the piece to blast the houses in which the enemy fought most stubbornly. This enemy gun was the only field piece that the 90th Division possessed east of the river, and the sole item of antitank artillery. In the center the 2d Battalion initiated a futile assault to cross the railroad. Company F discovered a tunnel under the tracks, but the men who got through were cut off and captured by the Germans on the other side. The 1st Battalion, on the right, was subjected to heavy attacks by superior forces in the slaughterhouse area, the fight surging back and forth in the buildings at this strong point without any decisive result.58

Behind the 90th Division the Sarre was still at flood stage. Late in the afternoon of 9 December the engineers began rafting operations in the 358th Infantry zone, ferrying across a few jeeps and light antitank guns. In the early evening the first tank debarked from the treadway ferry, but this and the tanks following could not be used on the left flank of the division, where armor was most needed, so long as the hostile fortified salient separated the 358th from the rest of the division. Assault boats and carrying parties remained the only means of supplying the 357th and 359th, although four P-47’s flown by pilots of the XIX TAC, swept over the 357th at treetop level and dropped urgently needed medical supplies squarely in the drop zone that had been marked by the infantry. The hard-pressed 357th received additional help in the form of two hundred replacements who were crossed in assault boats and sent immediately into line.

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SLAUGHTERHOUSE AREA IN DILLINGEN. Circles indicate pillboxes.

December 10 was a day of snow and rain, chilling and soaking the men in the foxholes. It was also the day on which the entire force of the 719th Division finally was brought to bear against the 90th Division bridgehead defenses. Balck’s threats and fulminations had accomplished little as to rerouting the wandering 719th or remedying the disorder that had resulted from the conflicting missions assigned the division. On 9 December the bulk of the 719th had been rounded up and was in process of assembling in the woods east of Saarwellingen. But when the division began the march west to its attack positions a traffic jam resulted; the division artillery, nineteen light and eleven heavy guns, could not be moved forward to support the scheduled attack. The Army Group G commander was furious, started court martial proceedings, and issued the strictest kind of injunctions for the 719th to make a full-scale attack on the morning of 10 December.

Just before dawn the 719th and the 19th VG Division began piecemeal attacks all along the American line, while the German artillery, numbering some 110 guns, increased its shelling to a tempo the 90th Division had not heretofore encountered in the bridgehead. The 90th Division, with all its rifle battalions committed, was not able to take the initiative and during most of the day could only hold grimly to its positions. The 357th Infantry was hard hit, since the main effort by the 719thwas thrown against it, but continued to beat off each assault.61 The 359th Infantry fought a seesaw battle in the pillboxes west of the Haien Bach against enemy sallies coming down the slopes. The 3d Battalion fought its way into the fortified salient, making a desperate attempt to join hands with the 358th Infantry to the south, but by nightfall had lost nearly all organization as its squads and platoons were cut off in captured pillboxes or isolated and pinned to the earth by raking machine gun fire. The 358th received a terrific pounding by the German guns and several counterattacks.62Company F, which had won a precarious footing east of the track, was forced to withdraw. Elsewhere the regiment held its ground63 and L Company succeeded in destroying five German tanks. Company A was hit and surrounded by a very strong enemy force intent on retaking the slaughterhouse area. For several hours telephone connections with the company were severed and the company was reported lost, but at the end of the day this strong point was still in American hands. Late in the afternoon the 1st Battalion saw the Germans forming east of the tracks for a final assault. Hastily organizing a counterattack, elements of A and B Companies dashed across the tracks, wheeled left through a cemetery and into a fortified church on the enemy flank. This unexpected assault broke up the German formation. The exposed position was untenable, however, and the American troops withdrew from their temporary shelter as soon as darkness gave them the opportunity.

Supply for the 90th Division continued to be handled by assault boats, for the river dropped abruptly and stranded the heavy ferry, which German guns then damaged when veering winds blew away the smoke screen at the crossing site. The shoestring nature of the supply lines on the left flank and their continued interruption by German raiding parties made General Van Fleet decide to regroup the 357th. To do this he ordered the 1st and 2d Battalions to redress their lines on a shortened front, and withdrew the 3d Battalion from the attack on the fortified salient, setting it to secure the supply roads close behind the battalions in the line. He further ordered the 359th to continue the attack to the east, but to use its 3d Battalion to force a way to the 358th in the sector north of Pachten.

On 11 December the 357th withdrew its lines in the north and northeast as the division commander had directed.66 The 358th and 359th confined their activities to probing for a corridor through the fortified salient still separating the two, after the 359th was hit by a German night attack that drove in between the 1st and 3d Battalions and recaptured three pillboxes and their occupants. All efforts to reduce the pillboxes in the salient by direct assault were fruitless; as was precision shelling by heavy artillery west of the Sarre. During the day General Van Fleet brought the scratch covering force from the west bank to fill the gaps in the firing line, leaving the 90th Reconnaissance Troop to patrol west of the Sarre. This movement brought on so much enemy shelling as to indicate the possibility that the Germans might attempt to flank the 90th Division by a counterattack across the Sarre, and General Walker alerted the 10th Armored Division to meet such a riposte if it should come.

The following day brought the successful completion of the scheme of maneuver outlined on 10 December by the division commander. The 3d Battalion of the 357th finished mopping up the pillboxes and knots of enemy riflemen which had harassed the rear of the regiment all through the operation. For the first time the left flank of the 90th Division was stabilized. The 358th and 359th finally made contact and established a lateral corridor through the German fortified salient. This feat was accomplished by a combination of accurate artillery fire, daring infantry assault tactics, and a kind of “homegrown” psychological warfare. The 8-inch and 240-mm. howitzers that had been brought to bear on the German pillboxes produced real results on 12 December, smashing some by direct hits and badly shaking the nerves of the defenders in the rest. A combat patrol sent out from the 359th on the previous day, and written off for lost when it failed to report, turned up in possession of one of the key pillboxes, making the task of the following assault teams much easier.68 The 358th pressed into service a Luxemburger known as “the old Kraut.” He succeeded in convincing the occupants of five strong pillboxes that wisdom was the better part of valor, after condign threats that they would all “be blown to hell.” The first contact between the 358th and the two regiments in the north was made about 1530. Fortunately the winds now favored the Americans, the smoke screen held, the vehicular ferry was again put into operation, and by late afternoon one company each of tanks and tank destroyers had been put across. Two tank platoons were sent at once through the corridor to the 357th. Although all but four of the tanks mired down before they reached the regiment, their presence brought a considerable lift to the flagging spirits of the men in the foxholes.69Meanwhile the 358th turned its attention toward Dillingen and began preparations to resume the attack. Corps artillery blasted the city, the 4.2 chemical mortar companies of the 81st Battalion laid in 2,500 rounds of white phosphorus, and by nightfall Dillingen was burning brightly.

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VEHICULAR TREADWAY FERRY in the 358th Infantry zone was left stranded by the receding river on 9 December, but became operational again three days later.

In reports on the morning of 12 December, the “combat efficiency” of the 90th Division was rated at 43 percent, the result of the exhausted condition of the troops and the acute shortage of replacements. It is true that the arrival of the armor and antitank support plus the final tie-up of all three regiments raised morale appreciably during the day. But the chief difficulties facing the division still obtained: gravely reduced rifle strength in the battalions and the necessity of holding on to the innumerable pillboxes after their seizure, for here, as in the 95th Division bridgehead, demolition supplies were insufficient to destroy more than a very few of the captured enemy works.

General Van Fleet decided to concentrate the limited strength of the 90th Division in a determined effort to complete the capture of the city of Dillingen. Devastated though the city was, it would offer some cover from the winter cold and rain and provide a defensive position more easily held than the open terrain on which the American main line of resistance now was drawn. Once Dillingen was secured the 357th Infantry could be withdrawn from its exposed sector and aligned as flank protection in the Pachten-Dillingen area. Furthermore, the capture of Dillingen would put the 90th Division in possession of the Prims River crossing at the south edge of the city from which a main highway, skirting the swamp land to the west, led to Saarlautern-Roden and possible contact with the 95th Division.

General Van Fleet set 15 December as the date for the renewal of the attack, giving time for the 90th to regroup and build up its stock of supplies and ammunition east of the Sarre. The last was no easy task, for the bottom had gone out of the muddy road between the river and Pachten; to make matters worse, at noon on 14 December the German guns again knocked out the vehicular ferry. Nevertheless, by the night preceding the attack ample supplies were at hand and enough vehicles had been crossed to relieve the infantry engaged as carrying parties.

The Saarlautern-Dillingen bridgehead meanwhile had lost its paramount place as the greatest threat to the German forces under Army Group G. The offensive by the American Seventh Army along the west bank of the Rhine had gained momentum on 11 December and promised to drive straight through the weak forces under Group Hoehne who were fighting with their backs to the West Wall. Here in the Wissembourg sector, on the edge of the Rhine Valley, the West Wall was none too strong, consisting as it did of only a single fortified line. Furthermore, OB WEST reckoned the ratio between the opposing forces as 10 to 1 in favor of the Americans. By 14 December the German situation had deteriorated so markedly that Rundstedt’s headquarters expected “hourly” to receive news that the Americans had broken through into the Palatinate. The battle now could only be one to win time and to hold until the great Ardennes counteroffensive was unleashed.

Needless to say Balck could expect no help from the armies in the OKW strategic reserve. Requests for help from the Nineteenth Army only resulted in the brusque statement by Jodl that no troops could be taken away from Himmler. Balck did the only thing he could do and commenced to strip the rest of the Army Group G front in order to reinforce General Hoehne. With his eye on the double zone of fortifications in the Saarlautern sector Balck gave orders that the remainder of the21st Panzer Division and all of the 404th Volks Artillery Corps were to be relieved from the bridgehead battle and sent to the south. The First Army commander, General Obstfelder, pleaded and even argued, then fell back on the conventional alibi that he lacked the gasoline necessary to move these troops out of his area. By various dodges Obstfelder managed to delay the departure of the 21st and the 404th, but by 15 December only the rear elements of these units were left in the Saarlautern-Dillingen area. In the meantime OB WEST had secured the 526th Replacement Division to take the place of the 21st Panzer Division, but the movement of the former was long delayed and on 15 December only a few of its troops had arrived in front of the XX Corps bridgehead.

Early on the morning of 15 December the 90th Division attack to mop up Dillingen jumped off as planned under a dense smoke screen put down by the 4.2 mortars. Two battalions of the 358th Infantry led off in an assault across the railroad tracks and fought their way under terrific enemy fire into the streets and houses of Dillingen, followed closely by tanks and tank destroyers. Within a few hours the Germans began to break and when night came the 358th had cleared the buildings for some three hundred yards east of the tracks. The 359th Infantry gained about five hundred yards, against moderate resistance. In the late afternoon elements of the two regiments met on the north side of the city. The Americans had penetrated the main line of defenses in the Dillingen sector and mopped up numerous bunkers. The Germans could no longer defend along a co-ordinated line, but instead would have to hold at individual strong points and in islands of resistance. The success of this attack allowed General Van Fleet to risk weakening his left flank. On 16 December he took the battered and depleted 1st Battalion from the 357th and sent it back across the river for a few hours rest. The remaining battalions of the 357th were in little better state than the 1st, although refleshed somewhat by the arrival of the scratch force from the west bank.74 Indeed, the rifle strength of the entire division was so low that the division commander was forced to eliminate all antitank platoons and reduce the cannon companies and mortar platoons in order to provide more infantry for the continuation of the attack.

After the drive into Dillingen the German forces, now stripped of the 21st and 404th, failed to react with their usual counterattack tactics and a lull developed along the front.75 General Van Fleet purposely postponed any continuation of the attack at Dillingen since he wished to give the 5th Division time to relieve the 95th Division in the Saarlautern bridgehead and initiate a drive that would bring its lines forward alongside the 90th. On 18 December the 3d Battalion, 359th Infantry, and the 2d Battalion, 358th, made a co-ordinated drive in Dillingen. The division commander strictly enjoined a “cautious attack,” for he was most anxious to avoid excessive casualties and did not want to attract any strong German reaction until the 5th Division was abreast of the 90th.76 In spite of these limitations the advance moved forward very swiftly; resistance was astonishingly light and only twenty-two prisoners were taken. Within three hours the assault battalions had cleared eleven blocks and most of Dillingen was in American hands. But the 90th Infantry Division was soon to lose its hard-won ground. On the afternoon of 19 December General Patton ordered the division commander to begin the evacuation of the 90th Division bridgehead. The Third Army was in the process of shifting its divisions toward the Ardennes.77 There were some indications that the enemy was assembling a force in the Sarre-Moselle triangle, from which base a German attack could be mounted against the new American line of communications.78 General Patton needed every division that could be freed. For the time being the Saarlautern bridgehead would suffice to ensure a foothold east of the Sarre, in the event that the Third Army should return to the offensive in this area.

Lacking a bridge, the withdrawal of nine infantry battalions and about a hundred vehicles was a delicate operation. Through three successive nights the 90th Division moved men, weapons, tanks, trucks, and tank destroyers back over the Sarre.80At 1040 on 22 December the rear guard arrived on the west bank, while the American guns smashed Pachten and Dillingen with salvo after salvo.  An unknown battalion clerk wrote finis to the operation: “This was the first time this Battalion ever gave ground and even though it was a strategic retreat rather than tactical, it still hurt.” During the December battle on the Sarre the 90th Division had captured 1,298 prisoners and inflicted heavy losses on the enemy. But the 90th Division also had suffered severely, particularly among its veteran officers and men, and had lost 239 killed, 924 wounded, approximately 440 missing, as well as over a thousand officers and men evacuated as sick, battle-exhaustion, or battle-injury cases, the whole totaling more than one-third of its strength on 1 December.

January 11 2015

Advance to the Sarre

The XX Corps Advance to the Sarre (19 November-3 December)

The First Attack on the Orscholz Switch Line

After the capture of Metz, XX Corp proceeded to advance in the direction of the Sarre River. The initial advance was led by the 90th and 5th ID, along with the 10th Armored Division. After the penetration of the Orscholz Switch Line the 90th and 95th ID continued the advance to the northeast.

Meanwhile the XX Corps offensive along the main axis toward the Sarre was being carried rapidly northeast by the 90th and 95th Divisions. Since the two-division advance was about to outrun the flank protection offered on the north by CCB of the 10th Armored Division, General Walker decided to turn all of the 10th Armored to the east. On 27 November he issued new operations instructions which assigned the 3d Cavalry Group to relieve CCA of the screening mission on the far north flank of the corps and regrouped the 10th Armored Division preparatory to clearing the remaining German forces from the west bank of the Sarre in the division zone. The armor assembled on 30 November and began the attack toward the river through a low-hanging mist, its armored infantry in the lead and tanks following. CCB, on the right, drove as far as Merzig, where the enemy blew the last two of the Sarre bridges in this sector. Only a few enemy troops remained west of the river to oppose the 10th Armored, and by 0300 on 2 December the last resistance in the Merzig sector west of the Sarre was ended by the capture of Dreisbach, on the north boundary of the division zone. General Walker ordered General Morris to establish an outpost line on the west bank of the Sarre between the 3d Cavalry Group and the 90th Division. Since this defensive mission required only a single combat command, CCB turned back to a rest area from which, on 18 December, it would move to take part in the defense of Bastogne.

The XX Corps Preparations for the Attack Toward the Sarre River

The successful completion of the battle to encircle Metz and neutralize its garrison marked the end of an important phase in the operations of the XX Corps. But the tired and combat-worn divisions had no time to rest on their laurels. At best the greater part of the troops could be given only a few hours of sleep, a bath, and a change to clean, dry clothes, before the XX Corps turned northeast to continue the offensive beside the XII Corps toward the next enemy barriers: the Sarre River and the West Wall.

On 20 November, of General Walker’s three infantry divisions, the goth was east of Metz proper and the 5th and 95th were jammed in and around the city itself. A hasty redrafting of boundary lines inside the city simplified the task of extricating units and regrouping.them again under the proper command. The lack of bridges, however, and the difficulties attendant on moving trains and troops through this crowded area-where small groups of the enemy still were fighting-combined to hamper the general reorientation and reorganization required for the drive to the Sarre. Late on 21 November General Walker ordered the 5th Division to relieve the 95th Division, many of whose troops were involved in containing the German forts west of the Moselle. This reshuffling would bring the 95th eastward into the former 5th Division zone and place it on the right of the 90th Division. The 90th had not turned inward toward Metz and at the moment was in the process of wheeling northeast behind an outpost line deployed on the west bank of the Nied which served as a screen for the body of the corps. General Twaddle, whose 95th Division had been chosen to make the main effort to secure crossings at the Sarre, was unwilling to throw his division into what promised to be a hard fight without taking some time for rehabilitation, reorganization necessitated by the number of casualties among company commanders and vehicle repair, the last particularly needed by the attached tank battalion (the 778th) after the operations west and north of Metz. The 95th Division commander asked for a four-day delay, time that would be required in any event for regrouping the corps before the resumption of the offensive; so General Walker set 25 November as the date for the new attack toward the Sarre.

The XX Corps Field Order No.13, issued on the early morning Of 22 November, outlined the plan for the three-division operation, placing the 90th Division in the center, the 95th on its right, and the 10th Armored Division on its left. (Map XXXVII) General Patton had ordered the XX Corps to destroy the enemy remaining west of the Sarre and to cross that river. Beyond the Sarre River the corps mission would be to penetrate the West Wall, destroy the German formations there, and continue the attack in a northeasterly direction. “The burden of this offensive, in mud and rain, across a defended river line, and through the strongly fortified zone of the West Wall, would have to be carried by the infantry. The XX Corps plan gave the 95th Division the task of making the first crossings at the Sarre, in the sector between Saarlautern and Pachten. Once the 95th had a foothold across the river, the scheme of maneuver called upon the division to extend its bridgehead northward in order to facilitate the 90th Division crossing. In addition the 95th was charged with the task of making and keeping contact with the left flank of the XII Corps, whose 80th Division at the moment was held more or less immobile, blocking along the gap between the XII and XX Corps which had opened while the latter was involved at Metz.

The 90th Infantry Division was to begin its attack simultaneously with that of the 95th, clear the enemy out of its zone west of the river, and, when the Sarre was reached, support the 95th Division crossing with all the fire power the division could bring to bear. Once at the Sarre the plan simply called for the 90th Division “to prepare to bridge [the] Saar river within zone in [the] bridgehead established by the 95th Division.” During the initial phases of the drive to the Sarre at least one regimental combat team of the 5th Infantry Division was to be left in the Metz sector and there contain the German forts still holding out. General Walker, however, could assume that new troops ultimately would be available to take over the 5th Division containing role, or that the intransigent enemy garrisons would capitulate. Therefore, General Irwin was ordered to prepare plans for an attack with the bulk of the 5th Division anywhere in the corps zone on six hours’ notice. The 10th Armored, as noted, was to secure a crossing in the north at Saarburg.

The country between Metz and the Sarre River offered no unusually difficult barriers to foot soldiers and vehicles, although the combination of continuous rains and clay subsoil would slow the speed of any advance. The Nied River, running obliquely northeast from Bouzonville, near which the bulk of the 90th Division was assembled, could hardly offer the retreating Germans a natural defense line. The Nied, however, did bisect the zone through which the corps would move, making it somewhat difficult for the two infantry divisions to give each other mutual support during the advance to the Sarre line. In general the terrain eastward was-moderately rolling and mostly open, with a few patches of dense evergreen forest breaking the monotony of the landscape but providing little continuous cover for any enemy withdrawal. Some minor streams, tributaries of the Nied, cut across the American front and, with their bridges destroyed, were potential sources of delay. A short distance from the Sarre, and just east of the German frontier, the ground rose gradually to a series of heights, which, on the reverse sides, tended to break away sharply to the river. This conformation of high ground was known to the German staff planners as the Saar Heights Position (Saar�Hoehen Stellung). Northwest of Merzig the heights lay contiguous to the Orscholz line. West of Pachten, in the 95th Division zone, the heights were particularly rugged and dipped so abruptly at the river as to form a regular escarpment. West of Saarlautern the heights terminated some distance from the Sarre channel, with the result that a natural bridgehead of lower ground extended to the west of the river. The main section of the city of Saarlautern lay in this west bank bridgehead.

In the German scheme of successive defense lines the Saar Heights Stellung was the last planned line of resistance in front of the West Wall, which in this sector had been constructed on the east bank of the Sarre generally parallel to the river. The heights constituted a Vorfeld, or forward battle position, which could be used either to cover the movement of field forces into the West Wall fortifications or to screen deployment and maneuver for counterattacks launched to deflect any frontal attack against the main works of the West Wall. Although the maps at high German headquarters showed the trace of the Saar Heights Stellung as a main line of resistance, it remained in actuality a geographicalposition, strengthened somewhat by temporary field works, but lacking concrete fortifications. It is not surprising, therefore, that the XX Corps G-2 estimates and air photos took little cognizance of the defense possibilities of the Saar Heights.

American intelligence sources predicted that the enemy could throw in the remnants of three infantry divisions (19th VG, 347th, and 462d VG) to oppose the new XX Corps offensive. It was believed that the German withdrawal to the east, now taking place, would not stop short of the Sarre, and that the enemy forces left behind were incapable of fighting more than minor rear guard and delaying actions. The possibility was recognized that some part of the 21st Panzer Division and 25th Panzer Grenadier Division, identified in the fighting at the Orscholz line, might be shifted from the north and used to bolster the enemy forces on the Sarre line.  Beyond this, American intelligence and reconnaissance from the air had developed some general knowledge of the outlines and extent of the West Wall; but little detailed information on these fortifications was at hand and more precise acquaintance with their strength and capabilities would have to be developed in actual combat, in as much as preliminary ground reconnaissance was denied by the Sarre River barrier.

The German Withdrawal East of Metz

Field Marshal Rundstedt seems to have been far from sanguine as to any hope of long delaying the American advance east of Metz. His fear that the fall of Metz might leave a gap in the lines of the First Army, into which General Patton’s divisions would wedge their way, found expression as early as 115 November in an unsolicited order that gave the Army Group G commander permission to withdraw his right flank to the Saar Heights Stellung “if necessary.” General Balck was no more willing to accept Rundstedt’s conservative and cautious advice than he had been prior to the beginning of the Third Army offensive. Balck apparently believed that the remnants of the 9th VG Division and 416th Division which had withdrawn to the Borg Boulay line on the night of 17-18 November might be able to make a stand. He gave orders that the 347th Division, just arriving from the Army Group B area, should be committed on both sides of Boulay to bolster up the broken and depleted units congregated there.  The American maneuver to close the escape routes east of Metz gave the German forces in the Boulay sector a brief respite. But on 19 November the 10th Armored Division attack east of Launstroff reached the edge of the Saar Heights Stellung, and this threat, coupled with that now developing in front of the Orscholz line, caused Balck real concern. Army Group G issued a flurry of orders: The First Army must hold at the Orscholz line; the Launstroff-Bouzonville sector must be strengthened by “recklessly” stripping forces from the First Army center; all penetrations which might be made in the Saar Heights Stellung must be wiped out. Finally, Balck ordered Knobelsdorff to rush all the reserves available on the right wing of the First Army into the Merzig sector to hold the vital Sarre crossings, a somewhat bootless gesture by the Army Group G commander,in view of the paucity of reserves along the whole First Army front. Subsequently, by considerable juggling of units in the line and with some help from the OKW strategic reserve, Balck was able to form a Kampfgruppe in the Merzig area composed of elements from the 21st Panzer Division and the 25th Panzer Grenadier Division. But the deterioration of the situation at the Orscholz line speedily absorbed this last reserve force.

When the XX Corps resumed the eastward attack on 25 November-the German First Army had in action elements of three weak divisions: the 19th VG Division, disposed along the German frontier with its right boundary east of Launstroff and its left on the Nied River near Niedaltdorf;Kampfgruppe Muehlen, holding a narrow sector behind the Nied River between Niedaltdorf and Bouzonville; and the 347th Division, whose front extended in a shallow salient along the Nied River south to Boulay and then swung back southeast to an anchor point at the Forêt de St. Avold. Of these units the 347th was still fairly fresh, but it was only a static division and poorly equipped; the others were hardly more than reinforced regiments. Artillery support was available, although most of the German guns seem to have been already displaced to positions behind the Sarre. The19th VG Division had a total of four assault guns for close infantry support, but the others had none. Finally, it should be remarked that even these weak forces could not be employed with the greatest degree of tactical effectiveness, since the Nied River was the boundary between two German corps, the LXXXII Corps and the XIII SS Corps.

The Advance to the Sarre by the 90th and 95th Divisions

The 5th Infantry Division completed the relief of the 95th at Metz on 23 November and the latter moved east to take up its attack position on the right flank of the 90th Division. The 90th had been holding the Nied River sector with light patrols, as well as part of the line earlier established in the north by the advance of CCB, 10th Armored Division. Now, with the arrival of the 95th, a realignment was carried out along the boundary between the two attack divisions. This boundary line followed the Nied River as far as Bueren and then thrust due east along the main railroad to the Sarre River. The northern boundary for the 90th Division zone of attack an obliquely northeast through Halstroff and Mondorf, terminating on the Sarre just south of Merzig. The southern boundary of the 95th Division zone at the moment was also the line of demarcation between the XX and XII Corps. This disposition of the XX Corps forces gave the 95th Division a wider front than the 90th. In addition the 90th already was echeloned forward northeast of Bouzonville; which meant that it had only five and a half miles to cover before reaching the Sarre, while the 95th Division, which was making the corps main effort, was sixteen miles from the river.

On the early morning of 25 November the two infantry divisions commenced the drive toward the Sarre, each attacking with two regiments abreast. The enemy had no cohesive line of defense but instead used small detachments of thirty or forty men, holed up in villages along the roads, to fight delaying actions. Blown bridges, swollen streams, and muddy roads caused more delay than did enemy action. The German artillery laid down occasional harassing fire, but fog and haze prevented any effective counterbattery work by the American gunners. The 90th Division progressed about two miles in the course of the day. Its left-wing formation, the 359th Infantry (Col. Raymond E. Bell), which was echeloned in advance of the 357th Infantry (Col. J. H. George), reached the village of Oberesch–only four miles from the Sarre River. The 95th Division, strongly reinforced by artillery from the III Corps and 5th Division, crossed the Nied, advancing with the 377th Infantry (Col. F. E. Gaillard) on the left and the 378th Infantry (Col. S. L. Metcalfe) on the right. By nightfall the division had taken Boulay, Narbéfontaine, Momerstroff, and Hallering, and had begun to move through the Maginot Line. The enemy made no attempt to hold the old fortifications but did engage in occasional sharply contested delaying actions during the course of the day.  As the 1st Battalion, 378th, marching in column of companies along the Narbeffontaine-Niedervisse road, came past Hill 384 the Germans opened a surprise fire and inflicted a number of casualties on the battalion, including its commanding officer, Lt. Col. Christian L. Oliver. Company E of the 377th also was hard hit while advancing in the open toward the Bois d’Ottonville. A sudden and withering fire from the woods-cut down the company commander and thirty-one men. Pvt. Willie H. Bishop, the company messenger, took charge, withdrew the company from the danger,zone, and then directed the removal of the wounded. For this action he was awarded the DSC.

The 10th Armored Division committed CCB to extend the north wing of the attack on 26 November. Its dismounted infantry, supported by fire from field guns, tanks, and chemical mortars, systematically scoured the woods to the front. But most of the Germans in this sector had retired across the Sarre and the combat command met little fire except that from the German guns east of the river. The 90th Division also encountered little resistance on this day, although antitank ditches and mine fields began to appear in its path and slow the advance. In the 95th Division zone the 377th Infantry, making the main effort, advanced about four miles, despite the flooded countryside east of Eblange which forced the regiment to queue in column of battalions and thread its way forward on the one passable road. Toward evening both the 377th and 378th began to meet resistance from small German detachments, which apparently had orders to make a stand. Meanwhile, it had become apparent that the German garrisons holding the forts back at Metz were in no mood for quick capitulation; so General Walker ordered General Twaddle to extend his reconnaissance to cover the open area on the right flank of the 95th Division which tentatively had been allocated to the 5th Division. The 5th Division commander, however, was able to release the 3d Battalion of the 10th Infantry, and on 27 November it relieved the 2d Battalion, 318th Infantry, which had been holding the Bois de Kerfent at the boundary between the XII and XX Corps.

The 90th Division, pushing forward on a relatively narrow front, was well ahead of the divisions to its flanks by 27 November. General Van Fleet halted his division, except for minor patrolling, and set the engineers to work repairing the roads to the rear so that tanks and tank destroyers could be brought up for the final phase of the advance to the river. The 95th Division, however, was coming forward rapidly and on 27 November made a long drive at the expense of the 347th Division which put the 377th Infantry within a mile of the German border and brought the 378th up as far as Falck and Dalem. On the following day the 95th Division continued to make progress. The 377th entered Germany. The 378th made slight gains, but then was checked for several hours on its right by intense fire from the large woods east of Falck.21 At dark the front lines of the 95th were about four and a half miles from the Sarre, roughly abreast of the 90th Division.

General Walker now ordered the two infantry divisions to launch a coordinated attack on 29 November. Thus far the Germans had sought to delay the American drive by using small rear guard detachments and extensive demolitions, the main forces withdrawing the while to the Saar HeightsStellung. When the 95th began the attack on the morning Of 29 November it met more opposition than had been anticipated, for at this point the advance had to be made across the Saar Heights. The 1st Battalion of the 377th fought its way into the village of St. Barbara, located on a narrow spur about two thousand yards from the Sarre. Then tanks and infantry of the 21St Panzer Division made a counterattack, overran two 57-mm. antitank guns which had been manhandled into position on the road east of the village, and drove back into St. Barbara, where a bitter fight raged through the night.  Other elements of the 377th engaged in a desperate battle with troops from Muehlen’s Kampfgruppe who were disposed in and around Kerprich-Hemmersdorf, back to the northwest on the Nied. During the fight Sgt. Andrew Miller of G Company made a one-man assault into the German lines and there met his death. Two platoons rose, one after the other, to follow Miller and took the position. A posthumous award of the Congressional Medal of Honor subsequently cited the intrepid sergeant for “a series of heroic deeds” which had begun in the battles north of Metz and continued until he was killed.

The 378th also found the going tough and received counterattacks all along its front. The 3d Battalion mopped up in Falck, where a detachment from the 347th had held out during the previous night. When the battalion, supported by some medium tanks, moved east to clear the enemy from the woods and high ground ahead, the Germans lashed back with a succession of counterattacks, six in all, which were dispersed only after hard fighting.24 In the center the 1st Battalion took Merten and then held the village despite all German efforts to retake it. The 2d Battalion swung out on the left and started an attack toward Berus, but was hit immediately by a counterattack launched by a special “assault group” from Panzer Lehr. After a bitter engagement in which the battalion lost heavily and became much disorganized, it fell back toward Merten, reorganizing during the night behind cover offered by a group of farm buildings. The 95th Division had received no less than ten German counterattacks in the course of the day-an earnest of General Balck’s intention to defend the Saar Heights Stellung in front of Saarlautern. It would appear that all of the available German reserves had been thrown in to stop the 95th; north of the Nied River the 90th met little opposition and by nightfall it had patrols on the west bank of the Sarre.

On the last day of November the XX Corps began the final battle to destroy the enemy west of the Sarre. The 90th Division, responsible for clearing the triangle formed by the Nied and Sarre Rivers, dispatched the 1st Battalion of the 357th in assault boats across the Nied near Niedaltdorf, thus flanking the hasty field fortifications at the Nied. The battalion then struck east into Bueren, where the enemy continued to contest the possession of the village through the night. In the north the 90th closed up to the Sarre and at dusk occupied Fremersdorf, the largest town on the west bank in the division zone, without a fight. The American thrust in this sector had cut the 19th VG Division in two, leaving the 74th Regiment isolated north of Fremersdorf and the 73d Regiment crowded into the Bueren area.

 

During the morning Of 30 November the 95th Division consolidated its front-line positions and reorganized, after the disorder attendant on the counterattacks of the previous day, to resume the attack. In the meantime the rear echelons of the division worked doggedly to mend the boggy roads and better the supply situation, a necessary preliminary to any crossing attempt. In the afternoon the 377th Infantry hunted down the last Germans in St. Barbara and pushed on its right into Felsberg, where a particularly stubborn knot of the Panzer Lehr assault group held the edge of the village and delayed further advance. The 378th moved forward to positions beside the 377th Infantry and took a dominating hill (377) south of Felsberg which the Germans considered the “key” to the Saar Heights. At the end of the day, while not yet at the Sarre, the left wing of the 95th was poised on the slopes which led down to the river in front of the Saarlautern. The two-and-a-half-mile advance to Bueren, by the battalion from the 90th, likewise had moved the American line to the slopes leading down to the Sarre in front of Dillingen, which covered the right flank of the Saarlautern defenses. However, the 378th had not yet fought its way past the high ground on the right flank of the 95th, from which the enemy continued to deny access to the river.

Although the north flank of the two infantry divisions slated to make the river crossing was protected by the 110th Armored Division, which had driven forward to well within light howitzer range of the German defenses at Merzig, the south flank was only weakly outposted and presented some danger. In fact much of the trouble met by the 95th Division had come on its open right flank, where it had attempted to bypass German resistance emanating. from the rough, forested salient between the XII and XX Corps. With this potential threat in mind the XX Corps commander attached a task force, commanded by Col. Robert P. Bell, to the 95th Infantry Division. This force, taken from the 5th Infantry Division, consisted of the 10th Infantry (-), 46th Field Artillery Battalion, 5th Reconnaissance Troop, and one company each of engineers, tanks, and tank destroyers. Bell’s task force closed in the sector on the right of the 95th Division late in the afternoon Of 30 November. General Walker expressly prohibited the use of the task force in the crossing operation, for it was his intention to use the entire 5th Infantry Division to exploit any crossing secured by the 90th and 95th. General Patton, meanwhile, had assigned the 6th Cavalry Group and the 5th Ranger Battalion to the XX Corps, specifying that the Rangers could not be used offensively. These units were organized as a task force under Col. E. M. Fickett, who commanded the 6th Cavalry Group, and on 1 December it assembled near St. Avold with the mission of screening on the XX Corps south flank. The arrival of this force permitted a regrouping on the right of the corps, and the 10th Infantry was released from its protective mission to make an advance on the south flank of the 95th Division.

At the close of November the First Army had given ground all along its front. The American XV Corps was driving back the German left and now threatened to break through to Wissembourg and the Palatinate. The XII Corps had made an armored penetration at the German center and was preparing to widen the thrust by a push across the Sarre in the vicinity of Sarreguernines. On the German right the American XX Corps was in sight of the West Wall and in position to carry the attack directly across the Sarre and into the main line of fortifications. (Map XXXVIII)

At the moment Hitler considered the XX Corps attack the most serious of all the threats to the West Wall.26 In the sector between Merzig and Saarlautern the West Wall was more strongly fortified than at any other point and Hitler had committed himself to the thesis of West Wall impregnability. Furthermore, in this sector the West Wall shielded the great industrial centers of the Saar Basin; on 27 November the First Army had been told that its primary mission was the defense of the Saar mines and factories.  But although Hitler may have briefly considered an operation for the recovery of Alsace and Lorraine which would have brought reinforcements to the Army Group G front, the project for a great counteroffensive in the Ardennes was never forgotten nor were any but the most meager measures taken to restore the fighting strength of the forces under Balck’s command.

The Army Group G commander did what he could to wring adequate support from OB WEST, and thus indirectly from OKW. He described what he considered to be an alteration in American tactics. Earlier the Americans had attacked in force in a few sectors, giving the Germans opportunity to concentrate at the points of pressure. Now the Americans tended to break up their former large “assault reserves” and launch a whole series of smaller assault detachments in attacks on a wide front. The superior mobility of the American forces allowed a rapid regrouping after the initial penetrations and kept the Germans constantly off balance. These tactics, said Balck, could be met only by building up strong, armored, counterattack reserves behind all parts of the front. But such reserves, as Balck himself admitted, were not available.

The Army Group G commander also addressed himself to his troops�in his usual strident manner. On the night Of 29 November a general order prescribed “no more withdrawals.” The battle now must be fought to weaken the enemy and win time. All traces of the “West Wall psychosis” must be ruthlessly eliminated (apparently the propaganda on the strength of the West Wall had been too successful), and the troops must be told that safety lay not behind concrete but in bitter battle before the German frontier. Finally, wrote Balck, the army group commander will not tolerate “rear-area swine” but will have only soldiers in his command.

Actually there was little Balck or Knobelsdorff could do but issue resounding orders. On 30 November the only reserves on the First Army right wing (the 21st Panzer Division Kampfgruppe) were detailed to make one attack after another in the St. Barbara sector, but without avail. About mid�night Army Group G ordered Knobelsdorff to pull the right wing of the LXXXII Corps back of the Sarre, thus beginning the withdrawal into the West Wall. Subsequently Rundstedt reprimanded Knobelsdorff for this action, but Balck’s order had been precise: “He [the First Army commander] must not let the 19th VG Division be destroyed west of the river.”

The 95th Division Fight for the Sarre Crossing

Although the enemy continued to evince considerable determination to keep a foothold on the west bank of the Sarre, the 95th Division prepared to buck through this delaying defense and strike immediately across the river. General Twaddle ordered up the 379th Infantry (Col. R. L. Bacon) from reserve, with the intention of sending the fresh regiment through the 377th to force a crossing near Saarlautern. (Map XXXVII) This attack was set for 1 December, following a large-scale air assault that was planned to soften up the German defenses along the river. In the days just past, bad flying weather had precluded any extensive co-operation from the air force in the Third Army area. On 1 December the weather broke a little. The IX Bombardment Division had scheduled an assault by eight groups of B-26 bombers, but because of failures in Pathfinder equipment and late arrivals at the initial point only four groups made it to the target zone. The medium bombers struck at Saarlautern, Ensdorf, and Fraulautern; fighter-bombers, sent over from the XIX TAC, worked on interdiction three or four miles east of the river. Visibility was too poor for the kind of pinpoint bombing needed in a river crossing operation and the ground observers reported that the air attack was only moderately successful. At 1235 the last bomber ended its bombing run and General Twaddle gave the word for the 95th Division to advance.

The plan of attack hinged on the effort to be made by the 379th, which was to cross the river near Saarlautern, establish a bridgehead, and then continue the attack by turning sharply north and clearing the east bank in the neighborhood of Rehlingen- thus permitting the 90th Division to cross in that area. On the right the 378th was instructed to sweep the enemy from the west bank and then, on orders from the division commander, force a crossing in its zone and continue the attack to the east. On the left the 377th also had orders to clear out the enemy to its front. During this operation the 379th was to pass through the right wing of the 377th, which would lay down fire to support the crossing attack by the 379th and then take its place in division reserve.

The G-2 estimate of the number of enemy in front of the 95th Division, on both sides of the river, set the figure at 10,000 with elements of the 559th VG Division, 347th Division, and 36th VG Division represented. The 95th Division had incurred heavier losses than any other division in the XX Corps during the period since 9 November. The inclusion of over thirty‑five hundred replacements during November, mostly untried riflemen and officers with no experience in battle, would tend to reduce the combat effectiveness of the division. However, the relatively small number of combat fatigue and sick cases which had been hospitalized by the 95th Division indicated that it was fairly fresh and that its morale was high. Moreover, the 95th approached the fight at the Sarre with an impressive number of guns in support, since the III Corps artillery and the 4th Tank Destroyer Group had been sent forward to aid the division during the crossing operations.

The first hours of the 95th Division attack on the afternoon of 1 December showed that the German troops still west of the river intended to make a fight of it. The 377th Infantry met stiff resistance, but finally completed the job of clearing Felsberg about 1500. Colonel Gaillard then sent his 3d Battalion marching east toward Saarlautern. The 11st Battalion, on the north flank, was pinned down at. St. Barbara in an action lasting all afternoon. Enemy tanks and infantry, supported by guns across the river, fought with much determination in the village itself. The 378th, attacking toward the high ground in its front and hampered by an open south flank, also found the going slow and difficult. Slight gains were made on the left, aided by the advance of the 377th, and an important hill near Berus was taken. But the 1st Battalion, advancing on the right where maneuver was restricted by streams and flooded fields, was checked by an enemy detachment holding a hill west of Bisten and was forced to fall back on Merten. In spite of these reverses at the flanks of the division, two battalions of the 379th Infantry passed through the 377th and as the day ended swung into the advance down the gentle slope leading to Saarlautern.

The events of 1 December had shattered any German hopes of a systematic and homogeneous defense west of the river. The loss of the high ground near Berus was a matter of special concern to the First Army for it meant that the Americans could drive a wedge between the LXXXII Corps, forming the army right wing, and the XIII SS Corps, which constituted the army center. Knobelsdorff wished to retake the lost hill but found that there was insufficient artillery ammunition at the German guns to support such an attack. Apparently there was a plentiful supply of shells in the dumps at Darmstadt, but these were not reaching the front lines (probably the American air attack was the answer).

Despite the fact that his First Army commander had just received a stiff official reprimand from Rundstedt for “continually falling back,” Balck issued an order at 2130 for all troops north of an east-west line through Dillingen to retire behind the Sarre. Two hours later he extended the withdrawal zone as far south as Saarlautern and ordered the XIII SS Corps to pull its right flank back into the wooded area between Berus and the river. During the night of 1-2 December most of the remaining troops of the LXXXII Corps moved across the Rehlingen bridge or were ferried across the Sarre, but rear guard elements of the 21st Panzer Division remained in the vicinity of St. Barbara and other German detachments congregated to fight a holding action at Saarlautern.

Friendly planes again intervened on the morning of 2 December to help the American infantry. Eight groups of medium bombers, sent over by the IX Bombardment Division, blasted targets in and around Saarlautern. This time the ground observers reported that most of the drops were highly accurate.. The bombing must have shaken and scattered the defenders of the city; when the 2d Battalion of the 379th drove into the edge of Saarlautern the enemy reacted slowly and in disorganized fashion. By 1500 the battalion had driven the Germans from the barracks in the western section of the city and started a house-to-house fight deep inside the city itself. Only the 2d Battalion was committed in this engagement, because Colonel Bacon wished to hold his 1st Battalion for use in the crossing and the 3d Battalion had not yet come up.

The 95th Division continued to have trouble on its flanks, and attempts to shake free the regiments at the shoulders of the salient formed by the 379th were countered with desperate resolution. The 1st Battalion of the 377th Infantry finally gave up the effort to clear the resurgent enemy from St. Barbara and withdrew to the west, leaving the division artillery and friendly planes to smash the village. This merciless pounding by shells and bombs ended the fight, and by early afternoon St. Barbara and its key ridge were again in American hands. The 377th began to mop up. By the night of 3 December the regiment had completed its mission of clearing the west bank and was placed in reserve at Wallerfangen.

The 378th Infantry met “extremely bitter resistance” on 2 December. The troops on the left flank fought their way northeast and by nightfall held Pikard, only three thousand yards from the center of Saarlautern. This advance had been made against “some of the most severe resistance the regiment had yet encountered.” The regiment now was extended, along a very wide front, with the southern wing aligned almost at right angles to the forward line. All attempts to bring the right forward through Falck and Merten were unsuccessful.

The fighting of the past few days had taken heavy toll in the 95th Division, particularly in the ranks of the 377th and 378th. The effective combat strength in four of the infantry battalions was reduced to 55 percent or less. Very few replacements were available. At the close of 2 December the 95th Division G-3 Periodic Report called the division “tired,” and for the first time in its

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SAARLAUTERN. The area shown in the photograph is indicated on Map XXXVII. Circles indicate pillboxes.

record failed to carry the notation of “Excellent” or “Superior” under the Combat Efficiency heading. When more complete reports arrived in the division headquarters the efficiency rating of some battalions was changed to read “very weak.”  Such was the condition of the division which had yet to force a river crossing in the face of a fortified line. The fortunes of war, however, were about to favor the 95th.

In late afternoon of 2 December an artillery observation plane discovered an intact bridge spanning the Sarre between the center of the city of Saarlautern and the suburb north of the river; this bridge led to the main road connecting Saarlautern and Saarlautern-Roden. The air photo showing this find was sent to the commander of the 379th. After interrogating prisoners on details of the city plan and consulting General Twaddle, Colonel Bacon determined to send his 1st Battalion to seize the bridge. The Sarre makes a loop at the northwestern corner of the city of Saarlautern, and Colonel Bacon decided to take advantage of this configuration by sending the battalion across the near segment of the loop. After this move the attack would dash inland through the northern suburb and take the bridge from the rear or north side. With the bridge in the hands of the 1st Battalion, contact then could be made with the reserve battalion, which was now in position to join the 2d Battalion in the push eastward through the main part of the city.

In the early morning hours Of 3 December the 1st Battalion (Lt. Col. Tobias R. Philbin) moved through the barracks area, thus avoiding entanglement in the streets of Saarlautern, and forward to the river. Philbin’s troops were fresh, for the battalion had not been engaged since the fighting at Metz. At 0545 the first assault boats shoved off to make the 125 foot crossing. Ten minutes later the whole battalion was on the opposite bank. The noise of the American guns shelling Saarlautern had drowned out all sounds of the crossing and no German outposts were seen as the first troops debarked. Company B and a platoon of Company C, 320th Combat Engineer Battalion, led the surprise attack, double-timing a distance of about two thousand yards through an empty park and down the road to the bridge. Here a light German tank was discovered, sitting beside the bridge exit. In the half-light, shrouded by the fog and rain, the American advance guard moved up to the tank. A German inside the tank suddenly awoke to the danger and started frantically working his radio, persisting until he was knifed by the commander of D Company. Another made a dash for the switch connected with the demolitions on the bridge and was shot by Colonel Philbin. The engineers, commanded by Lt. Edward Herbert, raced onto the bridge, cut the demolition wires, and surprised and killed four German guards at the opposite end of the bridge. In the meantime L Company, reinforced for this mission, had driven cast through the city proper and arrived at the southern end of the bridge. With their backs secure the men of the 1st Battalion faced about and pushed out to the north. The enemy troops on the far side of the river seem to have been widely scattered and were able to gather only small parties of engineers to counterattack, all of which were handily beaten off. But the German artillery, working hard to destroy the bridge structure by shellfire, succeeded in making the bridge so hot that the engineers were unable to remove all the demolition charges until late in the afternoon. At nightfall the bridge still was undamaged and in American hands, the 607th Tank Destroyer Battalion had put tank destroyers across to reinforce the 1st Battalion,45 and the 2d and 3d Battalions had taken nearly all of the city and tightened the hold on the bridge. After dark the Germans made a daredevil attempt to demolish the bridge by running in tanks loaded with explosives. The leading tank was destroyed when only some two hundred yards from the bridge and this venture was abandoned.46

The unexpected American success at the Saarlautern bridge had imperiled the German defense scheme and greatly perturbed the higher German commanders. Field Marshal Rundstedt was informed of what had happened soon after the event and ordered the First Army commander to attack at once, destroy the bridge, and hold the east bank of the Sarre “at all costs.” Army Group G immediately began an investigation, at the behest of OB WEST, to assess the blame for the loss of the Saarlautern bridge; it finally reported that the bridge guards had all been killed during the attack and that the Americans had engineered a surprise by using a captured German tank. This explanation seems to have been accepted without further question and the matter was dropped. In any event the Americans had a bridge and a foot�hold across the river, while the enemy on the spot was too weak to prevent the establishment of a real bridgehead- no matter what orders came from Rundstedt’s headquarters.

January 10 2015

Task Force Bacon 15-22 November

USA-E-Lorraine-XXXI

Task Force Bacon (1/379th, 2/378th and 1/377th) began its operation on 15 November, timed to coincide with the parallel attack by the 377th and 378th west of the river. Since the fight to free the 1/377th in the Bertrange sector consumed most of the day, the drive south did not begin until the next morning. The advance was made in two columns, moving along parallel roads on a narrow front, with tank destroyers and tanks – later reinforced by two self-propelled 155mm guns – at the head of each column and wit the infantry following in trucks and on foot.  The fire power in front blasted enemy strong points along the road.  Then the infantry stepped in to mop up, or launch an assault, according to the degree of stubbornness shown by the German grenadiers and gunners after they had been subjected to concerted tank and tank destroyer fire.  When the terrain and the enemy combined to slow down one column, the second column hooked around the position into the German flank and rear.

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On 16 November, TF Bacon made an advance of four and a half miles at the expense of the 1216th Regiment, whose connection with the 19th VG Division on the right now had been broken. The TF continued south on 17 November pushing its self-propelled guns forward to engage defended road blocks and bunkers at ranges as short as two hundred yards.  At dark the task force columns merged along the main river road within sight of Fort St. Julien, less than 4000 yards from the center of Metz.  The CO decided to send the 2/378th against For St. Julien, whose strength and controlling position on the main highway made an assault imperative.  At the same time he planned to switch the 1/377th around past the fort in an attempt to keep the advance moving.

woippy3

The battle for Fort St. Julien, conducted by the infantry supported by 155mm, 240mm artillery, tanks and tank destroyers, combined with demolition experts from the engineers lasted all day on 18 November. Resistance did not end until a 155mm gun was run up in close quarters to bombard the fort. The next day 200 docile prisoners were taken out of the network of tunnels below the fort.

woippy1

While its sister battalion was fighting its way toward Fort St. Julien on 18 November, the 1/377th had bypassed to the west and marched through the suburbs of St. Julien-le-Metz. Barring the northeastern entrance to the older portion of Metz lay another large but outmoded work, Fort Bellecroix.  Just as the battalion started forward to form for the assault a column of about 100 hundred German infantry came hurrying out of the fort with white flags in their hands.  The reason for this hasty evacuation soon became evident.  About 1400, as the battalion was moving along the street by the fort, two terrific blasts shattered the heavy masonry walls bringing the debris down on the startled Americans and leaving 57 dead and wounded in C Company, which at the moment was closest to the fort. The rest of the battalion threaded its way through the rubble.  As the day ended patrols form the task force began to mop up the scattered centers of resistance at the northern edge of the city.  TF Bacon continued to take part in the rather desultory street fighting of the next few days and was dissolved on 22 November when resistance in Metz officially ended.

January 10 2015

Battle for Metz

Attacks by the 377th and 378th

USA-E-Lorraine-XXXII

95thID-wwii-s3-1On 15 November the 377th and 378th, each minus on infantry battalion attached to Task Force Bacon on the east side of the river, started a co-ordinated maneuver, the 378th leading off with a flanking attack on the Canrobert line and the Feves ridge.  The 377th, on the left, following up to make the main effort of the division with a push south along the west bank of the Moselle.

At 0800 on 15 November, after a fifteen-minute artillery preparation, the 1/378th and B Company, 778th Tank Battalion, moved forward to attack Fort le Feves, the northernmost work in the Canrobert line.By 1100 this key work, commanding the approaches to Metz from the north and northwest, was in American hands, and the attack rolled on toward the high ground southwest of the Bois de Woippy which was the regimental objective. During the afternoon troops of the 1010th Security Regiment and the 1215th Regiment made several furious but fruitless attempts to wipe out the American penetration in the rear of the Canrobert line. As each wave debouched from the German works it was cut down by fire from the lines of the 1/378. By midafternoon the 1010th and 1215th had had enough and were evacuating the line of fortifications in disorderly fashion. At 1600 the 3d Battalion passed through the gap made by the 1st Battalion and when night fell its troops were on the regimental objective.

T95thID-wwii-s3-3he main effort launched by the 95th Division on 15 November began at 1000 when the 377th Infantry Regiment drove south of Maizierres-les-Metz into the positions of the 1215th Regiment – now at only half strength. The infantry attack, spearheaded by medium tanks of the 778the Tank Battalion, made steady progress.  At twilight the 3d Battalion held la Maxe and the 2d Battalion, to the west, was fighting hard in the town of Woippy – less than 3 miles from the heart of Metz – where the enemy had elected to make a stand with a battalion of the 1215th Regiment reinforced by the reserve company of the 38th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment.  The battle for Woippy continued until the afternoon of the following day, when the last Germans were captured or driven from the town.  During the night of 15 November patrols from the 377th and 378th made contact, and the next day the bulk of the two regiments pushed to the south.

On 16 November all resistance by the 1215th Regiment collapsed. During the night of 16 November the attack of the 377th and 378th had turned into a pursuit along roads strewn with abandoned equipment, half-loaded truck, and artillery pieces.  The following day the two regiments mopped up in the German works which had been bypassed, although Fort Gambetta was merely contained after the failure of an initial assault by troops of the 377th. The regiments then reorganized in preparation for the last stage of the advance into Metz.

Early on the morning of the 18 November the Germans blew the demolition  charges on the Moselle bridges west of the city, destroying all but one, which apparently was left intact for the troops retreating from the bridgehead.  The 377th, having reached the suburb of Sansonnet the previous evening, rushed a company of infantry and a few tanks across the one bridge over the Hafen Canal, which at this point turned west from the river to form a small island.  The Americans took some 250 prisoners on the island. A patrol from the 3/378th Infantry rushed the bridge in its zone, but the structure was blown while the Americans were crossing.

95thID-wwii-s3-51/378th continued to assault forts around Metz without success. The next day XX Corp commander sent orders that all of the holdout forts were to be contained and not subjected to direct assault. The 378th, the 377th, and Task Force Bacon all entered Metz on 19 November.

 

 

 

USA-E-Lorraine-XXXIII

January 10 2015

Operation Casanova

The bridgehead at Uckange – Operation Casanova

  • Date : From 8 To 14 November 1944
  • Location of the action : Uckange, France
  • Unit in the area : 1st Battalion, 377th Inf. Regiment

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Above : 1/377th crossing at Uckange was made in boats like this one; it’s a training shot of the 377th Infantry Regiment making assault crossing.

On the night of 7 November, when General Patton gave the order that would set the Third Army attack in motion, the XX Corps assault troops began the move into assemble positions, guns were displaced forward to support the advance, and bridging and smoke generator equipment was trucked and manhandled as close to the Moselle as camouflage precautions permitted. Early on the morning of 8 November the dull sound of massed artillery fire to the south signaled the start of the XII Corp attack.  All through the day the XX Corps troops lay quietly in woods and other bivouac areas. Then, as darkness came, the assault units took up attack positions and 95th Division moved forward the troops assigned to carry out demonstrations and initial crossing preliminary to the main corps attack.

The plan to achieve a genuine crossing at Thionville was planned but the division had to convince the Germans that the crossing would take place south of Thionville. The need to create another beachhead  ” diversion ” was requested. The unit designated for this mission called ” Operation Casanova ” was the 1st Battalion of the 377th Infantry Regiment while the two other units of the Division, the 378th Infantry Regiment and 379th would continue to contain the western fortified salient around Metz . The mission report specifies that the attack would be conducted on November 8 , the day before the XX Corps initiatives to cross the river . Thus, the first blood shed in the final battle of Metz will be paid by the ” new guys ” of the 95th Infantry Division.

The 1st Battalion was chosen to make the river crossing, and after the move from the southern bridgehead, they were transferred to the riverbank in the Uckange area. All 95th Division markings were removed, fake message traffic was maintained and they disguised themselves as the 359th Infantry Regiment, by then on the north toward Aumetz. Their mission was to cross the Moselle, move across the flood plain on the far side and occupy the small town of Immeldange astride the main north-south road between Metz and Sierck-lès-Bains. There they were to dig in and wait to be relieved by troops moving down from the main crossing site.

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Above : Map of Operation Casanova

The appalling weather conditions precluded the planned preliminary air attack on the enemy on the far bank, but an artillery concentration was fired. At dusk, a company of the 320th Combat Engineer Battalion slipped across the river, detonated mines, and blew a gap through the barbed wire. At 2100, Company C of the 377th Infantry Regiment paddled across in 17 assault boats, a distance of some 200 yards. The first wave received no small arms fire while in the boats. The 73d regiment, 19th VG Division, responsible for the sector, had no outposts at the river and required some time to move troops into the threatened area.  But the “bouncing Betties” along the bank took their toll as the company debarked. The Americans passed through the gap in the German wire and advanced about four hundred yards to the east, then halted to await daylight and the arrival of the remainder of the battalion.

In the meantime, the enemy artillery, located inland, had opened up, apparently firing on check points earlier fixed along the river.  Company B of the 135th Engineer Combat Battalion, assigned as part of the 1139th Engineer Group to support the 95th Division crossing, tried desperately to throw a footbridge across the river, but the German guns were too accurate.  Three bridge sections were destroyed, twenty-four men became casualties, and work on the bridge halted until a new and less vulnerable site could be found.  Company A was ferried over in the early hours of 9 November. By then, however, the weather had begun to exert its baneful influence. During the previous night the river had started to flood, fed by the torrential rain, and by the morning had burst its banks. The turbulent waters had spread out over the flood plain, doubling the normal width of the river and vastly increasing the speed of the current. The approach road to the crossing site disappeared under the water and all efforts to get a telephone line across were frustrated by the current. Thus the only means of communication were via a frail radio link.

By daybreak on 9 November, the 1st Battalion had two rifle companies and a heavy weapons platoon across the swirling river. They then began to move off further inland, bypassed the village of Bertrange and established themselves on a low hill to the east, out of reach of the spreading water. Although not directly menaced by enemy infantry, shelling and mortar fire were heavy and the men dug in to keep warm. At 0905, the battalion reported hack to Regimental HQ : “Two companies are across river. River is very high and we’re not sending others over”.

The flood waters frustrated all attempts to supply the two companies, who were by then entirely cut off. The speed of the current and accurate enemy shelling made daylight movement across the Moselle more or less impossible, even when outboard motors were attached to the assault boats. It was therefore decided to try air supply by artillery spotter aircraft. Ten L-4’s flew throughout the afternoon, each with a “dropper” who had volunteered to squat behind the pilot. Flying at only 25 feet, they managed to deliver 1080 K-rations, 46000 rounds of small-arms ammunition, 4000 rounds of 50-caliber ammunition, medical supplies, cigarettes, water purification tablets, plasma, and even a sack of toilet paper. The drops were certainly accurate, and a platoon leader said: “We got all the rations we needed from the planes.” Major Neumann, who flew several missions, reported that he “could see some of our men standing in water in their foxholes. They waved and shouted when we dropped some rations right down next to the foxhole.” This was the first of several occasions during the Battle of Metz when such light aircraft were used for resupply missions to isolated troops.

During the night of 11 and 12 November, the flood waters began to recede, and the following night it proved possible to ferry across the remainder of the battalion. This was undertaken without loss, as the engineers carried out a feint crossing by running their outboard motors, to distract the German artillery observers.

The operation of the Uckange bridgehead failed to tie down any significant numbers of German reserves. The main attack which started on the following day was immediately recognized to be the more important thrust. Thus the point of the deception was lost. The 19 Volksgrenadier Division did not have any reserves to commit anyway and would soon have realized that only small numbers of Americans were involved. By then, the German had identified the 10th Armored Division north of Thionville and had observed the buildup of bridging equipment in this area.

During this time, the 2nd Battalion of the 378th Infantry Division commanded by Colonel Maroun, did a real bridgehead in Thionville, received the order to gather the Battalion plus some tanks and tank destroyers, and attack southward to relieve the defenders in the Uckange bridgehead.

During the morning of 13 November, 1st Battalion 377th Infantry Regiment was ordered by the 95th Infantry Division to move off to the north, bypass Bertrange and Immeldange and capture Illange where they would link up with Colonel Maroun’s men. The men of this battalion took the two former town without difficulties, but as they regrouped prior to moving off, they were struck by a task force from the 73rd Grenadier Regiment, supported by some antitank guns. The forces in the two towns became separated and went to ground as the Germans roared up and down the long main streets in armored personnel carriers shooting at anything that moved. Communication with their artillery on the west bank broke down.

It was only restored early in the morning of 14 November, with a First Sergeant of the Company A acting as forward observer. However, in spite of the usually effective American artillery response, the Germans were not easily discouraged. They pressed their attacks all day, supported by light armored vehicles, to such an extent that at 2200, the battalion commander reported that his mission was “desperate”. One must remember that the 1st Battalion men were armed only with the weapons that they could carry and had been in action nonstop since the evening of 8 November.

During the evening, communications again broke down, and on the morning of 15 November, the remainder of the battalion was still holding out in the gutted ruins of the two villages. Bacon’s force arrived just in the nick of time, but during his advance, and using his tank destroyers as self-propelled artillery, Colonel Bacon shelled the Germans out of Bertrange and Immeldande, and by 1300, the beleaguered forces were relieved. Their strength, however, had been reduced to a mere handful of officers and men, but instead of being sent into reserve, they immediately became a part of Task Force Bacon.

At 2345, November 15, Colonel Bacon, reported the following strength figures for the rifle companies of the 1st Battalion. (It will be remembered that the normal strength of a rifle company is over 180 men.)

Company A : 1 officer and 42 enlisted men

Company B : 1 officer and 39 enlisted men

Company C : 4 officers and 107 enlisted men.

The figures speak for themselves on the price the 1st Battalion had paid for Operation Casanova. The results were less tangible, but it is clear that the 1st Battalion had made a contribution to the overall success of the Metz operation. They had drawn a large percentage of German artillery fire to Uckange area, and thus made easier the crossing of the 90th Infantry Division at Koenigsmacker and of the 2nd Battalion of the 378th Infantry Regiment at Thionville. In addition, they had forced the Germans to expend armor and infantry in a futile attempt to wipe out the Uckange bridgehead. They had held their ground against this counterattack and on November 16 they pushed aggressively south with Task Force Bacon and were to play an important part in the final assault on Metz.

February 2 2010

95th Infantry Division

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“Victory Division”

The division insignia consists of a monogrammatic red “9” and a white Roman “V” on a blue background. The roman “V” signifies the division nickname, “Victory Division”, and the Arabic “9” and Roman “V” represent the division’s number. The red, white, and blue colors parallel the colors of the American flag.

Known as the “Iron Men of Metz”

On 15 July 1942, the division was ordered into active military service and reorganized at Camp Swift, Texas.  The 189th and 190th Infantry Brigades were disbanded as part of an army-wide elimination of infantry brigades. Instead, the division was based around three infantry regiments, the 377th Infantry Regiment, the 378th Infantry Regiment, and the 379th Infantry Regiment. Also assigned to the division were the 358th, 359th, 360th, and 920th Field Artillery Battalions, the 95th Signal Company, the 795th Ordnance Company, the 95th Quartermaster Company, the 95th Reconnaissance Troop, the 320th Engineer Battalion, the 320th Medical Battalion, and the 95th Counter-Intelligence Detachment. Major General Harry L. Twaddle took command of the division, a command he held for its entire duration in World War II, making him one of only eleven generals to do so.  The division also received a Shoulder Sleeve Insignia this year. Over the next two years, the division trained extensively in locations throughout the United States.

The 95th Infantry Division was assigned to XIII Corps of the Ninth United States Army, Twelfth United States Army Group. The division sailed for Europe on 10 August 1944. The 95th Infantry Division arrived in England on 17 August. After receiving additional training, it moved to France one month later on 15 September. During this time it was reassigned to III Corps. The division bivouacked near Norroy-le-Sec, from 1 to 14 October. It was then assigned to XX Corps of the Third United States Army. The division was sent into combat on 19 October in the Moselle bridgehead sector east of Moselle and South of Metz and patrolled the Seillenear Cheminot, capturing the forts surrounding Metz and repulsing enemy attempts to cross the river. It was during the defense of this town from repeated German attacks that the division received its nickname, “The Iron Men of Metz.” On 1 November, elements went over to the offensive, reducing an enemy pocket east of Maizières-lès-Metz. On the 8 November, these units crossed the Moselle River and advanced to Bertrange. Against heavy resistance, the 95th captured the forts surrounding Metz and captured the city by 22 November.

The division pushed toward the Saar on 25 November and entered Germany on the 28th. The 95th seized a Saar River bridge on 3 December and engaged in bitter house-to-house fighting for Saarlautern.  Suburbs of the city fell and, although the enemy resisted fiercely, the Saar bridgehead was firmly established by 19 December. While some units went to an assembly area, others held the area against strong German attacks. On 2 February 1945, the Division began moving to the Maastricht area in the Netherlands, and by 14 February, elements were in the line near Meerselo in relief of British units. During this time the division returned to the Ninth Army under XIX Corps, though saw temporary assignments to several other corps through the spring.

On 23 February, the division was relieved, and the 95th assembled near Jülich, Germany, on 1 March. It forced the enemy into a pocket near the Hitler Bridge at Uerdingen and cleared the pocket on 5 March, while elements advanced to the Rhine. From 12 March, the 95th established defenses in the vicinity of Neuss. Assembling east of the Rhine at Beckum on 3 April, it launched an attack across the Lippe River the next day and capturedHamm and Kamen on the 6th. After clearing the enemy pocket north of the Ruhr and the Möhne Rivers, for example: Werl and Unna, the division took Dortmund on 13 April and maintained positions on the north bank of the Ruhr. It held this position until the end of the war.

377th Infantry Regiment

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History of the Regiment

Constituted 5 September 1918 in the National Army as the 377th Infantry and assigned to the 95th Division. (Was to be organized in France from personnel of the 1st Pioneer Infantry but never accomplished.) Disbanded 22 December 1918. Reconstituted 24 June 1921 in the Organized Reserves and assigned to the 95th Division. Organized during November 1921 with Headquarters at Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Ordered into active military service, less personnel, and organized 15 July 1942 at Camp Swift, Texas. Inactivated 11 October 1945 at Camp Shelby, Mississippi.

Campaign Streamers

World War II

  • Northern France
  • Rhineland
  • Ardennes-Alsace
  • Central Europe

Coat of Arms

Shield: Argent, on a less vert seven gouttes d’eau, four and three, between three gouttes d’olive in chief and seven in base, four and’three.

Crest: The shield is white for infantry, while the green fess indicates the original organization of the regiment in the oil belt of Oklahoma. The gouttes resemble drops of oil and the arrangement of the drops indicate the numerical designation of the unit. The motto is Cherokee Indian for “Onward.”

Motto: Ni ga da e sa sdi (Onward)

Distinctive Insignia

The insignia is the shield and motto of the coat of arms, The sample of the insignia was approved 11 October 1927.

95th ID STATISTICS

Chronology

  • Activated – 15 July 1942
  • Arrived ETO – 17 August 1944
  • Arrived Continent (D+105) – 19 September 1944
  • Entered Combat – First Elements -18 October 1944
  • Entered Combat – Entire Division – 20 October 1944
  • Days in Combat – 151

Casualties (Tentative)

  • Killed in Action – 1,128
  • Wounded in Action – 4,783
  • Missing in Action – 394
  • Captured – 65
  • Battle Casualties – 6,370
  • Non-Battle Casualties – 3,834
  • Total Casualties – 10,204
  • Percent of T/O Strength – 72.4

Campaigns

  • Northern France
  • Ardennes
  • Rhineland
  • Central Europe

Prisoners of War Taken 31,988

DETACHMENTS

(Attached to)

Infantry

377th Infantry Regiment 2d Armored Division 29 Mar 45-2 Apr 45

ASSIGNMENT AND ATTACHMENT TO HIGHER UNITS

DATE CORPS ARMY ARMY GROUP
Assigned Attached Assigned Attached
7 Jul 44 Ninth ETOUSA
27 Jul 44 XIII Ninth
28 Aug 44 XIII Ninth 12th
5 Sep 44 III Ninth 12th
10 Oct 44 XX Third 12th
29 Jan 45 VIII Third 12th
5 Feb 45 Ninth 12th Br 21st
13 Feb 45 Br VIII Ninth (Adm) Second Br (Opn) 12th Br 21st
22 Feb 45 XIX Ninth 12th Br 21st
26 Feb 45 XIII (Opn) Ninth 12th Br 21st
30 Mar 45 XIX Ninth 12th Br 21st
31 Mar 45 XXII (Opn) Fifteenth 12th
2 Apr 45 XIX Ninth 12th Br 21st
4 Apr 45 XIV Ninth 12th
9 Apr 45 XVI Ninth 12th

(-) Indicates relieved from assignment.

COMMAND POSTS

DATE TOWN REGION COUNTRY
17 Aug 44 Winchester Hampshire England
15 Sep 44 Mandeville Calvados France
13 Oct 44 Norroy-le-Sec Meurthe-et-Moselle France
20 Oct 44 Villers-sous-Preny Meurthe-et-Moselle France
1 Nov 44 Moyeuvre-Grande Moselle France
24 Nov 44 Borny Meurthe-et-Moselle France
28 Nov 44 Boulay Moselle France
28 Jan 45 Tavigny Luxembourg Belgium
5 Feb 45 Rocienge-sur-Geer Limbourg Belgium
15 Feb 45 Deurne Limburg Netherlands
22 Feb 45 Rocienge-sur-Geer Limbourg Belgium
2 Mar 45 Julich Rhineland Germany
3 Mar 45 Osterath Rhineland Germany
5 Mar 45 Krefeld Rhineland Germany
11 Mar 45 Ameln Rhineland Germany
2 Apr 45 Beckum Westphalia Germany
9 Apr 45 Soest Westphalia Germany
11 Apr 45 Werl Westphalia Germany
12 Apr 45 Kamen Westphalia Germany
19 Apr 45 Beckum Westphalia Germany
23 Apr 45 Erwitte Westphalia Germany
9 May 45 Ludinghausen Westphalia Germany

Battle Reports: 95th ID, XX Corp, Third Army, Lorraine Campaign

During the Ardennes Campaign (Battle of the Bulge) the 95th ID was transferred to control of the XIX Corp and the 21st British Army Group, later to the Ninth Army.

Historical Publications